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Excerpt: The Memory in the Blood by Ryan Van Loan

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The Memory in the Blood is the pulse-pounding conclusion to Ryan Van Loan’s The Fall of the Gods series, featuring sea battles, hidden libraries, warring deities, old enemies, and one woman’s desire for liberation and revenge.

When her quest to destroy the Gods began, Buc was a child of the streets. Now she is a woman of steel, shaped by gaining and losing power, tempered by love and betrayal, and honed to a fine edge by grief and her desire for vengeance.

A perilous, clandestine mission to a hidden library uncovers information that is key to destroying both the Dead Gods and their enemy, the Goddess Ciris. Ciris’s creation, Sin, who lives inside Buc, gives her superhuman abilities and tempts her with hints of even greater power. With that power, she could achieve almost anything—end the religious war tearing her world apart, remake society at a stroke—but the price would be the betrayal of everything she has fought for . . . and the man she loved would still be dead.

In the middle of this murderous, magical maelstrom, a coded message smuggled out of the heart of the Dead Gods’ cathedral reveals that the Dead Gods intend to destroy Ciris—and much of the world with her.

This. Will. Not. Stand.

If Buc has to destroy all Gods, eat the rich, and break the world’s economy to save the people, she will do it. Even if it costs her everything.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Memory in the Blood by Ryan Van Loan, on sale 7/12/22!


1

Rage is a winter’s gale so cold it burns, filling your veins with a liquid hotter than the sun. Not living fire, but something far deeper. Harder. Brighter. I discovered that when I lost Eld and everything within me burned away in the frost that froze my chest and lungs. Now it burns within me so brightly that I wonder any can look upon me and not be struck blind. Once, I was Sambuciña “Buc” Alhurra, now I am become Incandescence, Goddess of Rage.

Eight months ago, I left Servenza, bent on revenge and convinced I knew what rage was. Then I lost Chan Sha, nearly lost my mind, and discovered what rage truly was, a freezing fire that seared away the fog and let me see clearly for perhaps the first time since I’d taken Sin into my mind in a ritual on a deserted island to defeat a horde of Shambles and the Ghost Captain who commanded them. Only, that wasn’t the truth. Leastwise, not all of it. The full measure was I’d done it to save Eld and in so doing brought an enemy between us. An enemy buried deep within my once-brilliant mind. Sin hadn’t meant to betray me. It was in his nature to want to reunite with his Goddess. To convince me to complete the Rite of Possession. A rite that would have turned me from demi-Goddess in my own right to little more than one of the slaves the Burnt were said to keep in their sandblasted lands. I’d thought I was winning when in truth I was being played, and it took falling out with Eld, defeating Sicarii who was but Chan Sha in disguise, and finally, fatally, losing Eld to realize how badly I’d been beaten.

Chan Sha giving me the slip had been the final olive pit cracked in the press that truly broke me, but with that breaking came insight. When I was ten and six, I sought the power to challenge the Gods and their hidden forever war, to break the chains they wrapped around the throats of the world and give people a chance to breathe on our own. When I was ten and seven, having found that power, I discovered what so many did before me: power is a conniving bitch.

Now I’m ten and eight and wiser for all my failures.

Alone, as I was at the start, after Sister passed and before Eld found me. Everything burned away save the knowledge that Gods can be bested. If they can be bested, they can be killed.

Aye, but it will take a special flame to consume both the Dead Gods and Ciris. I used to fear fire, but now I’m frozen and can’t be fucked to care. Incandescent. Rage. Me.

“You upset with me, amirah?”

I glanced down at the little girl, who was barely more than eight. A faded, pink rag was tied through her hair, which had been blond once and was now brown from dirt. I felt the heat of the sun’s harsh rays, though Sin’s magic kept me from sweating. It wasn’t the heat that made me move deeper into the alcove provided by the door, shifting my weight away from the child.

“No, little one,” I answered in Cordoban, shaking my head and setting the bangles threaded through my loose braid into motion. The words were strange on my tongue—another of Sin’s gifts. “You pulled me out of my thoughts, is all. They like to wander, same as you,” I added. You could have stopped me.

“I’d like nothing less,” Sin whispered in response to my thought, his voice echoing in my mind. “You muse on little else but anger and machinations these days, and the last time I tried to intervene, you locked me in a dark corner of your mind for a month.”

“It was a week,” I replied mentally.

“We were on Southeast Island one moment and when I came back, we were in Colgna!”

“Maybe it was a fortnight,” I admitted.

“So, little one,” I said out loud, forcing myself back to the moment. Sin wasn’t wrong; given half a chance my mind focused on either the rage fueling me or all the delicious paths I aimed to trod while spelling the ruin of the Gods. “You’ve word for me, Denga?”

“Aye,” Denga said, picking at a thread that had pulled loose of her brown dress. If she pulled many more, there wouldn’t be enough fabric left to earn the name, but she’d refused my offer of better clothes. After seeing a lad wearing silks above his station get jumped by half a dozen others and left with little more than his torn undergarments, I thought I understood. “I spotted another limper this morn.”

“Oh?” I started to lean forward, but my right arm—stretched behind me—protested. I held myself still. “Was it like the man with the sleeveless vest you saw last week, Denga?”

“I’m not dumb,” Denga said, pouting in a way that displayed her cracked lip.

My eyes burned with Sin’s magic, zooming in on her skin, but there was no bruise there. From the sun, then. Denga had decent parents whose only crime was being too poor to have a child. I guess that meant the father’s crime was being too slow to pull out, but isn’t that every man’s sin?

“And how would you know?” Sin asked with a grin I could feel in my mind.

“Why did I let you out again?” I felt his amusement turn to a sulk and I chuckled soundlessly.

“You said the stranger you wanted was a woman and this limper is a woman,” the girl continued.

“An old woman?”

“Older than you, amirah Buc,” she agreed.

“Aye, but as old as your ma’s ma or your ma?”

“Ma.”

“Cordoban’s lousy with strangers, little fish,” I reminded her. “And the sun’s baked the bricks so badly they’ve cracked . . . limpers aplenty with streets like that.”

“You said this one would have her hair in braids down to her arse?”

“I did that.”

“And she’d probably hide her face beneath a hat?”

“Aye.”

“To hide her missing eye,” Denga said, this time not making her sentence a question.

“Now that . . . ,” I said, straightening up so quickly that I felt something twist in the wrist I still held behind. It began to burn as Sin’s magic fixed the sprain I’d just given myself. “. . . is interesting. Very interesti—wait!” When Sin’s magic kicked in, my hearing went, and I’d missed a few of Denga’s words. “What’d you say?”

“You didn’t say that she’d speak Cordoban,” Denga repeated. Her sunburnt cheeks dimpled when she saw my expression. “Did I do good, amirah?”

“You did.” The cold maelstrom inside me was rising to tempest levels but I held the breakers at bay. The second sighting? In as many days? I couldn’t allow for hope, but this was worth further investigation. I tossed a coin to the girl; she whooped when she saw silver flash in the sun instead of copper. “Where did you sight said stranger?”

“Watching the harbor,” Denga said. “Lots of ships come in—Ma says on account of fighting twixt Servenza and some other place? Whatsoever ship she wanted, she didn’t find it because her face was . . .”

“Long?” I suggested.

“Scary.”

“You’ve nothing to fear from that one,” I told Denga. “What’d she look like?” The child’s description matched the one I’d gotten yesterday—a divided riding dress in a shade of brown that nearly matched the woman’s skin and hid her limp from all but the most studious types: children. “You did good,” I repeated. “How’re you coming along in your studies?”

“The m’utadi says if I can find a word that I don’t mangle I will be able to read before next season’s rains.”

“And arithmetic?”

“She just sighs and says a word Ma said would earn me a lashing.”

I laughed. “But she does teach you.”

“Every other day,” Denga confirmed. “Ma doesn’t understand why one of the apprentices to the”—she said a word that even Sin couldn’t fully translate, rendering it as “Most Esteemed Knowledge Bearers”—“would bother teaching one such as me.”

“But she does teach,” I repeated. If Denga’s ma knew what leverage I had over said apprentice, she’d understand just fine— the Cordoban Confederacy understood blackmail even if they didn’t have a word for it. “And if you pay attention, you’ll be able to sit for the exams come summer’s end.

“Then I’ll be a m’utadi?”

“You will,” I promised her. “I’m going to stop by tomorrow, Denga, and you can read to me. Then I’ll tell you if your apprentice is right or not, aye?”

“As you say, amirah,” the girl said, her cheeks showing the first color other than dirt. Denga was impossibly proud of being able to read, however poorly, but embarrassed as well. Her parents were still trying to decipher my angle, but could see no harm in learning to read—which showed their ignorance. If Eld hadn’t taught me to read, I’d have never realized how fucked we were by the Gods and never set out to balance the scales. There were dozens who’d let slip their mortal coil who could tell Denga’s parents the dangers of my reading, but the dead can’t talk. Not without a Dead Walker, anyway.

“Call me Buc,” I told Denga. “Now, run off before you melt into the bricks. Oh”—my voice stopped her midturn—“if you ever want to skip out on your m’utadi, or wonder why you chose such a path when the maestros are beating the soles of your feet for mistranscribing a tome, just remember, Denga . . . that coin I gave you? Anyone with quick fingers or a blade can steal that.” I tapped my head. “But knowledge? That’s a wealth that can never be stolen, only squandered. Savvy?”

“I don’t ken that word?” Denga said, her accent suddenly heavy to my ears. “But I won’t let you down. I promise.”

“Don’t,” I told her. She bowed slightly and turned to leave. “And while you’re at it,” I shouted at her back, “don’t let yourself down either, girl!”

I waited until I saw her pink scarf, waving like a banner, disappear around the alley corner, then pivoted and caught the body I’d been using one arm to hold up out of her sight. The Sin Eater’s head lolled against my shoulder. A trickle of dried blood ran from her lips down to her chin like a faint scar against her mahogany skin, but elsewise she could have been sleeping. I eased her down in the alcove, setting her back against the brick with her feet blocking the door, her azure robes unwrinkled despite the abuse. Over the last six months, I’d learned, with Sin playing my own reluctant m’utadi, that one has to be careful when murdering Sin Eaters—take too long in the murdering and they’ll call others of their kind to them or, Gods forbid, Ciris herself.

“Ciris wouldn’t come in physical form,” Sin said. “For you, though, she might possess the Sin Eater.”

“Wouldn’t that be the same thing?”

“It would be semantical,” he confirmed.

“Uh-huh.”

I leaned the woman forward and her black, shoulder-length hair shifted, exposing the hilt of the short blade I’d driven through the back of her neck. It’s hard to call anyone, let alone a Goddess, when your brain stem’s been severed. The blade caught on a vertebra, and I had to twist it a bit to get it out, the woman’s head jerking back and forth and the sound of steel on bone loud in the silence cast over the alley by the oppressive heat. Give it up, woman. The blade pulled free and the Sin Eater fell back against the door with a dull thud, her sightless eyes slipping closed as I wiped the blade clean on her robes.

Ciris would realize one of her own was missing eventually, if the other Sin Eaters in Cordoba didn’t first, and one way or the other they’d trace her to this stoop. I was counting on it. After slipping the blade into its sheath beneath the thin jacket I wore, I tucked a scrap of paper into the fold of the dead woman’s collar, arranging it so the edge of a blade drawn in red ink that could have been blood was just visible. Sicarii’s calling card. Servenza thought Sicarii dead, but the Gods—both sides—knew she was still out there. For the past six months, Sicarii had been murdering their mages and . . . most deliciously of all, each side thought Sicarii was working for the other.

I straightened and inspected my green sleeves, bright as spring, but I’d put the blade where I wanted and there was no blood to give me the lie.

I couldn’t keep the grin from my lips as I stepped away. It’d taken me murdering my way through two enclaves of Sin Eaters and burning the Cathedral of Colgna down around a dozen mages of the Dead Gods—destroying some of the Dead Gods’ bones worked into their altar in the process—for actual war to break out between the Gods. Once it had, the clergy on both sides had set to with a motherfucking will, taking the world as their battleground.

As for Sicarii? She had been Chan Sha. Now she was a hollowed-out husk, on the run from me.

I’d lost her in that blur of the first month after Eld died, but at last I had her. She’d finally returned to the place I’d least expected, her old stomping grounds: the Cordoban Confederacy. Oh, I’d moved on, redoubling my efforts to destroy the Gods. I owed that to Eld, who’d died so that I might live. I owed it to Sister, who’d done the same many years before. And I owed it to the little street rat I’d once been, a girl who read a few books and dared to dream. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t spare a moment for Chan Sha if she’d gone to all this trouble to pay me a visit.

I rounded the same corner Denga had a few moments before and felt the sun pale before my black skin, bursting with rage. I was incandescent.

Copyright © 2022 from Ryan Van Loan

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