Marlan Ice

Sequel to Painted. When assassins attack cursed immortal Gideon Flynn's wife, he must take her to the last place he ever wanted to go: back to icy, desolate, dangerous Marla, to force the king to drop the contract.

(Note: this IS a sequel, so if certain places, names, or past events don't make sense, it's probably pointing to something in the first book.)

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1. Prologue (1/2) - The Fall

He watched them come with vast armies stretched across the western horizon. Like locusts, like plague... or maybe like death or destiny. Gideon didn't know. Gideon didn't want to know anymore. One decade of constant rage, one decade of work and striving and clinging desperately to an ideal, all of that simmered down into a thick morass of an inevitable failure, the taste of which he could not stomach… but then, good old-fashioned revenge came with a price, the voices had said.

A man lingered behind Gideon in his castle's otherwise empty war room. Gideon knew he was there, waiting to be noticed, but Gideon was preoccupied in staring at his city’s front gate through the tall, narrow windows. He didn't know this man's name-- just that he had replaced Robin Merador, whom he had executed for treason. Good man, Robin. Loyal man, until he wasn't. Until he had betrayed his king, as so many others had. As Robin’s replacement would, were he given the time and opportunity, and Gideon hated him for it already. It wasn’t until the man cleared his throat and asked, “Sire?” that Gideon turned his eyes from the city gate to the man's reflection in the glass and stared intently. Any hidden agendas, any disobedience... if it was there, Gideon would find it. The king's novice manastry-- his mind reading magics-- revealed only dread.

"The invaders have sent terms for your surrender," not-Robin said quietly. His face was pale, his lips were paler, and his hand that held his ledger shook. The mad king is more dangerous than all the armies past the walls, he thought, and Gideon's lips tightened at the mental word 'mad' before he focused on the verbal 'surrender'.

Surrender. Why not just lay his heart and soul down at his enemies feet, while he was at it? To grovel and repent for avenging parents, wife, siblings, nieces, nephews. To give up everything he had suffered and stood for these ten years past?

"There will be no surrender," Gideon said. "Kill the messenger." He paused, then reconsidered. They told him he should think about his orders before he gave them, and on second thought he did have a better idea. "Bring the messenger in and set up a spike to impale him. Put him front and center before the main gates, so that if the invaders get in he can greet them." They would get in, but why say aloud? He was their king, and a king ought to be optimistic. Then maybe they could take a few more of the bastards down with them.

Robin Merador would have given him a sick expression and asked if this was the time, or perhaps something about not killing messengers. Not-Robin simply made a note and moved on. "Your orders for the city's defense, Your Majesty?"

"Bar the gate. Hold the walls as long as you can. Ground ourselves for siege weapons. Press every man, woman, or child who can hold a sword or cast a spell in the militia who isn't there already." He paused, tasting the words, weighing them. "Shoot anyone and everyone attempting to flee the city. Put archers on all walls and have them watch for escaping civilians. No one leaves. We'll fight to the last man."

Not-Robin made a note of his king's orders, his face growing paler still. Somewhere, somehow, Gideon missed Robin. Sometimes he even began to wonder if perhaps he should have let him live... but Robin had betrayed him, and traitors needed to die.

Still, though...

"No one leaves," not-Robin repeated. "Yes, Your Majesty. Anything else?"

Gideon shook his head. The man was halfway to the door when the king cleared his throat. "I needn't remind you of what will happen to you if my orders aren't carried out to the letter," Gideon said gently.

"I know, Sire." Not-Robin bowed low and departed.

There had been a time, when this all started, when Gideon's war room had been crowded. When men had shared his vision of avenging their murdered royal family, when they had spoken of redeeming their countries' reputation after Queen Serenity Flynn had done nothing more than investigate her children and grandchildren's deaths. There was a time when Gideon had believed the things that his council said.... Now the war table was empty and dusty, its painted wood armies over a year out of date. Grown men playing with toy soldiers and toasting their own ingenuity.

Outside, the sun began to set behind the invaders, over the western mountains. Orange and red light glinted from tens of thousands of suits of armor, standing in neat blocks of five hundred or so, criss-crossing Gideon's fields like metal crops.

They came with missiles dipped in pitch and set alight. The fires started in the mercantile district and spread as the city's magic wards were beaten down, their mages slaughtered, their gates crushed, their towers fallen. Gideon's makeshift army barely put up a fight, and as the sun set the place was illuminated by fire.

Gideon watched from the war room window until he saw the gate fall. His eyes closed, his posture shifted from taunt to slumped, and he leaned against the window's molding. His eyes wandered to the line of impaled corpses he'd decorated his grounds with. They would doubtless do the same to him. A more skilled mage would bind his magic and let him suffer a traitor's death. Gideon had picked impalement because it was such a long, slow, agonizing end.... Good, old-fashioned revenge came with a price, and when he’d started all this he supposed that the guilty would be the ones to pay it, not him.

Gideon had a better idea than facing the stake, though.

You're alone now. The thought had not come from him, but its voice was familiar. He stepped into the empty halls, around a crashed cart no one had picked up, to the grand stairs in the great hall, its table set with scattered dishes with old bones and crusts from weeks past. The floors and carpets crunched as he walked over them, his boots grinding dirt into the wood floors. His father's castle was spartan by design, empty by circumstance, poorly lit because Gideon just didn't care any longer.

I was always alone, Gideon returned. It's just been made very clear as of late. He always blamed the words on stray thoughts, some side effect from the excessive amounts of manastry that he practiced. Mental magic was complex and demanding and minds were easy to misinterpret or break, including his own, but what else was he supposed to have used?

You will have us, the voice returned. Gideon ignored it. Stray manastry didn’t seem like the sort of thing that would reach him in hell. Or wherever ruined men with good intentions went.

He picked a stairwell and climbed. He had added this tower himself, for a wife who had been murdered before she'd gotten to enjoy it. He had filled it with her things anyway-- her clothes, her keepsakes, her portrait. He stepped within and breathed deeply. Ten years and the tower still smelled like her, that sweet, musky floral with a sharp undertone. Perfume and ink.

Gideon sat on his wife's bed and covered his face with his hands, elbows on his knees, drinking in the smell. He had loved her more than anything. Her black hair, her dark skin, her slanted almond eyes, her sweet almost-smiles. He had proved that he'd loved her more than anything, beyond any doubt. There had been a time when she would set her chin on his shoulder, her arm wrapped around his back, her hand cupping his elbow, her black hair tickling his neck. The only question left in his mind was if he'd done enough to avenge her. He felt that he ought to say something, but the occasion felt wrong.

What are you doing? the voice asked.

“I’m going to find Grace,” Gideon replied aloud.

He opened the balcony doors and climbed upon the rail. He wouldn't be impaled. He would not die as he had lived. He would have this last act of defiance against a world that had always been against him. All the city sprawled below, waiting. Fire and rubble and burned husks and ant-sized men.

Wait.

“No.” The waft of smoke and ash from his burning city. The wind in his hair. His arms spread wide… touching, tasting, feeling

The voice became a feral snarl. GIDEON!

Something that sounded like a great tapestry tore behind him.

Gideon's head wrenched back to see and he pivoted too fast, too unused to standing on narrow surfaces. He lost his footing. The ground rushed to embrace him; his body burst like a wineskin on impact.

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