Raven's Strike PROLOGUE

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Raven Duology #2

Genres: Fantasy , Romance

In the eighth year of the Reign of Phoran, Twenty-Sixth of that name, the Sept of Leheigh died. His son, Avar, long having lived in Taela as a boon comrade of the young Emperor, traveled to the estate the Sept, his father, had bequeathed him. Hidden among those who traveled with the new Sept were a handful of mages who came for secret purposes.

They left one of their number, a mage-priest, to establish a new religion in the heart of Leheigh, a land old in power and well suited to secrets - this they thought the most important of their twofold assignment.

The second was to steal away a man gifted with the Bardic Order of the Owl, just returning to his family from a winter's hunt. The familiar task was no more difficult than many other such abductions they had accomplished - perhaps easier, for the Orders of Mage and Hunter were, either of them, more suited to resist the attack of wizards than the Order of the Bard.

They had no reason to suppose that this man was any different from the scores of such men and woman they had stolen in the past. No more did I - and I should have known, for Tieragan of Redern was no stranger to me.

The thought of his eventual death, needful though it was, saddened me. That his death meant anything to me at all told me that I had put it off almost too long. I would miss listening to him sing, I thought on the day I sent my wizards out to take him. I took some consolation from the knowledge that even if he had lived, I would not have been able to listen to him for much longer: he or his kin would have noticed what I was.

If I could not listen to his songs, it was fitting that soon no one would hear Tier's music. So I told myself, and put his death out of my head. I had forgotten, though, what he had been and had only remembered the farmer who sometimes earned a few extra coins by singing at the Hero's Welcome in the evenings.

So I left Tier to my wizards, who had always served me well, and concerned myself with the growth of my religion.

It had taken almost a full century before I realized that I could use power gained from things other than death. Death is what I crave, but I am chary of using it more than necessary. It draws too much attention, and the power that it brings is too addictive. It makes me reckless, when I want to be subtle. Instead I've learned to feed on strong emotions: envy, hate, and lust.

My temples are an endless supply of such emotions. What do people pray to their gods for, after all?

Let my father die so that I might inherit his wealth, says one, while another bows his head and asks, Let Toren's wife look upon me with lust. Some prayers are more desperate. Please, let no one find out that I stole my lord's gold. I don't want to die. I fed upon those desires, even as the gods must once have. They made me strong.

I am not the Unnamed King. They sometimes treat him as though he was the only Shadowed. But he was not the first Shadowed, nor, as, I can attest, was he the last. Unlike him, I do not need the adulation and the name of power when I have the reality of it. I don't want to be Emperor of the world. I have other plans. It suits me to allow others to accomplish my purposes. It amuses me.

I pride myself on knowing which men will serve my needs best. I grew dependent - no, not dependent - complacent. I grew too complacent because my people always obey me, always accomplish the tasks I set them to.

If I'd been paying closer attention to the wizard-priest Volis, I would have seen that his ambition was going to interfere with my own plans. I could have stopped the destruction of my temple in Redern.

But that temple was a convenience, not a necessity. It was formed as much to keep the ambitious and powerful wizard Volis where he could do little harm as for any other purpose. Thousands fed me from my temples in Taela. I did not need Redern, and so did not guard it as well as I might have. My neglect allowed Tier's wife to destroy it. My fault, true. But on the whole, I consider Volis's death to be as great a benefit to me as the temple was a loss. He was getting too ambitious, too curious. He knew too much.

The destruction of the Secret Path in Taela, though, was a much greater loss, but I am not at fault there. No one could have expected that Tier, who was not even a Mage, could destroy in a matter of months what had taken me centuries to build. No one.

It took the whole of humanity, wizards and warriors, to bring down the Unnamed King. I, who will become so much more than He was, will not have it said that I was brought to my knees by a farmer.

I burn with the humiliation of it yet.

I could have defeated them - a ragtag band of Travelers and a Sept's personal army would have been no match for the power I wield. But it would have been the first step in a war that I do not want. What good is it to rule the world when there is no world to rule? That is a question that the Unnamed King should have asked himself. But, I suppose by then he had already burned away most of who he once was and become nothing but an outlet for the Stalker's power. I have a better plan.

I can repair the damage. Rebuild the temple, rebuild my Secret Path. The destruction was not as great as it would seem: there are always ambitious men who will serve me. Tier has caused me no permanent setback; he is not so important.

But he must be punished for what he has done, what his family has done. He will wish he were dead before I am through with him. Perhaps I shall grant his wish.