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The Gods of Vice
By Devin Madson
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- Trade Paperback $19.99 $24.99 CAD
- ebook (Digital original) $4.99 $6.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 4, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Honour Is Wealth.
Emperor Kin Ts’ai—Emperor of Kisia
General Hade Ryoji—Master of the Imperial Guard
General Rini—General of the Rising Army
General Jikuko—General of the Rising Army
Father Kokoro—Court priest
Master Kenji—Imperial physician
Raijin—Kin’s brindle horse
We Conquer. You Bleed.
Emperor Lan Otako—Deceased. Eldest son
Emperor Tianto Otako—Deceased. Youngest son
Empress Li—Deceased. Mother to Hana and Takehiko
Emperor Katashi Otako, “Monarch”—Only son of Emperor Tianto
Lady Hana Otako, “Regent”—Only living daughter of Emperor Lan
Tili—Lady Hana’s maid
Shin Metai—A Pike and Lady Hana’s protector
Wen—A Pike and healer
Pike Captains—Captain Tan, Captain Chalpo, Captain Roni
The Traitor Generals—General Manshin, General Roi, General Tikita
Sight Without Seeing
Lord Nyraek Laroth—Deceased. Fifth Count of Esvar
“Malice” “Whoreson” Laroth—Illegitimate son of Nyraek Laroth
Lord Darius Laroth—Legitimate heir of Nyraek Laroth. Sixth Count of Esvar
Lord Takehiko Otako, “Endymion”—Illegitimate son of Nyraek Laroth
Vice Without Virtue
Lady Kimiko Otako, “Adversity”—Katashi’s twin sister
Avarice—Once employed on the Laroth estate
Hope—Once Lord Arata Toi, heir to the Duke of Syan, now a Vice
Vices—Spite, Conceit, Ire, Folly, Apostasy, Parsimony, Pride, and Rancour
I had woken disoriented from many bad dreams before, but never to a stomach intent on spilling my horror onto the matting floor. Tili sang and shushed my cries, patting my back as I purged darkness from my stomach. And it felt like darkness, like a horror and a disgust so deep I might never smile again.
Slowly, the warmth of the sun began to touch my skin, and I didn’t just hear her song; I felt it. It was like waking from another layer of dream, trembling and ill.
“It’s going to be all right, my lady,” Tili said as she rubbed my back. She had draped blankets over me at some point, the weight of them on my shoulders comforting. “Everything is going to be all right.”
Outside, birds went on singing. A bee buzzed onto the late-blooming jasmine coiled around the balcony railing. I could not recall my room at Koi having had a balcony, but the smell sent a wistful blade deep into my soul. Tears came next, and Tili held me to her, her weight and her warmth even more comforting than the blankets, and when at last I could cry no more, I finally felt alive. Exhausted, broken, but alive.
“No one seems to know what happened,” Tili said, fussing around while I picked at some thinly sliced fruit. “But everyone who was in the room has suffered like this, and some…”
She stopped. Her fussing got fussier.
“Dead?” I said, my first word, but it felt appropriate. For a while there, death would have been a relief.
“Yes, my lady, but let’s not think about that. You are safe and you are well and that is all that matters.”
Her words owned a brittle cheeriness, her smile as fragile as glass. “Tili, tell me what happened. Please,” I added when she pursed her lips and would not speak. “I need to know.”
“Lord Otako—Emperor Katashi, I mean, holds the city now. He’s taken the oath and everyone has to kneel before him and swear loyalty to their new emperor and”—Having begun to speak, she seemed unable to stop, words spilling from her like bile had spilled from me—“if they refuse, they are being… being executed, and anyone who had a position with Emperor Kin is being executed, and the imperial guards who didn’t escape are all dead, and most of the servants who came from Mei’lian, and… and…” Grief overtook her, tears choking her words. She rubbed her eyes with the sleeve of her robe. “I’m sorry, my lady, I did not mean to tell you until you were feeling better, I—”
I could remember the fury and the blade and the flash of hurt in his dark eyes but not much else. Had he been in that room with me? Had Katashi caught him?
Tili looked down and shook her head, sending fear thundering through my numb veins. “I’m sorry, my lady, but I don’t know. He seems to have just…” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “… disappeared.”
“Hush, we should not talk so in case someone is listening, my lady. I do not want to… be thought a traitor and…” She pressed her sleeve to her eyes and stayed there silently shaking.
Disappeared. Perhaps I had something to thank Malice for after all.
I gripped Tili’s arm. “It’s going to be all right,” I said, repeating her words back to her. “I will not let him hurt you.” I let her cry as she had let me cry. Most of the servants who had travelled with us from Mei’lian had been known to her, some of the guards too. She might have exaggerated the number of deaths in her distress, but there were still many lives to fear for.
“What of Minister Laroth?” I said. “What happened to him?”
I had been in his room. Shin had been there. A strange young man too, tied to the divan. All I had wanted to do was get out of the castle, and then he had given me Malice’s blood.
“I… I hear he hasn’t woken, my lady.” Tili sniffed. “But there are some men in black robes who are caring for him. Everyone says they are Vices.” She whispered the last word with the horror and awe that seemed to follow the Vices everywhere, but to me they were familiar faces.
Almost I told Tili not to worry about them either, but while my ability to protect her from Katashi needed no explanation, I had not the energy to explain Malice.
I nibbled a few individual pomegranate arils and stared at the table while Tili went back to fussing. I appeared to have a lot more robes than before, and she seemed intent on refolding them all.
Kin had disappeared. Katashi had taken the oath. Darius was asleep, while Malice and his Vices were stalking about. And tucked away in this pretty room, I was as inconsequential as the breeze. I crunched a few more arils and tapped the table. I needed to see Katashi.
“I will wash and dress,” I said. My body ached at the very thought, but I had to see the new world for myself. I had fallen asleep and everything had changed.
“Are you sure, my lady? You still look very pale and you’ve hardly eaten anything. Emperor Katashi said I was to look after you and make sure no one troubled you and—”
“I’m fine, Tili, I promise. Just tired, but… not the sort of tired sleep can fix. Will you choose something for me to wear?”
With a nod, she walked away along the line of chests while I finished what I could stomach of my meal. “Blue, my lady?” She held up a lovely light-blue and white robe, edged in dark blue waves. It was pretty but cut low at the back of the neck and not one of mine.
“No, one of the ones you altered for me.”
Tili hadn’t a smile to lose, but her gaze slid toward the door. “As they were gifts from the Usurper, they have been taken away and replaced with… and unfortunately, my lady, I haven’t been able… there just hasn’t been time to—”
She sucked a panicked breath, and I leapt up from my mat to take her hands, leaving the pretty robe to fall unheeded on the floor. “Tili, Tili, it’s all right; you cannot think I would be mad at you for that. I understand, you’re afraid, and if my cousin is making a nuisance of himself, then I can’t but—”
“A nuisance? My lady, poor Ilo got executed just for having been born in Ts’ai, he is—”
Again, she looked at the door. Her hands shook.
“Surely there must have been more to it than that,” I said.
“No! Ilo would never hurt a fly. I… I was born in Ts’ai, my lady. I lived there all my life until I moved to Mei’lian and took work at the palace. The only reason my head is not out there with theirs is because I am your maid.”
Beneath the sound of her shuddering breath, there was nothing but the patter of footsteps, some chatter, and even a distant laugh—the sounds of a castle in which nothing had changed. And yet Tili trembled all over like an aspen leaf in a storm.
“Tili,” I said. “How long have I been asleep?”
“Three days, my lady.”
“Three days? I—” I bent and grabbed the robe off the floor. “I have to see Katashi. Here, I don’t suppose there is a robe with less of a come-fuck-me neckline, is there?”
Her eyes widened, and cheeks turning pink, she gasped. “My lady!”
I laughed at her look of mingled horror and awe. “I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t be surprised anymore that I’m hardly a lady. A less… attention-seeking neckline then, is that better?”
“Yes, but… no. I’m afraid they all have… come-fuck-me necklines.” She squeaked at her own daring and covered her mouth with both hands as though she could push the words back in.
For a blissful moment, there was nothing but companionable giggles, but it did not last. All too soon, the knowledge of where we were and what had happened dropped its shroud over us, and she helped me dress in silence. Having grown up on a farm, I was only used to wearing full robes on special occasions. The tunic and breeches style Tili had sewn had been as much for my own comfort as to annoy Emperor Kin. This court robe, however stunning it might look, was both too tight and too loose in all the wrong places, and its neckline that dropped below my fifth vertebra made me squirm.
By the time Tili was finished, I might have walked right out of a court portrait.
I hated the very sight of myself.
“It’ll have to do,” I said as she tried and failed to make a comb stick in my short hair.
“Shall I come with you, my lady?”
“No, you stay.” I walked to the door and slid it open. “I’m sure someone will be able to tell me where—”
I spun around. A man in an imperial uniform had been standing outside my room, his black sash all that marked him as one of Katashi’s men, not one of Kin’s. Though I would have known him from one glance at his face. “Wen,” I said before I could think better of it and immediately thought better of it as he frowned. Captain Regent of the Vices had known Wen, not Lady Hana Otako.
“I want to see Katashi,” I said, drawing myself up to maximum pride in an attempt to cover the mistake.
“Cap—His Majesty is busy with his council, my lady,” he said, struggling with his own confusion in a way that might have given us something to laugh over had the situation not been so fraught and unsure. “But I can inform him that you’re feeling better and—”
“No. I will see him now.” I walked on past Wen, sure that while he might grab my arm if he was very bold, he would not harm me.
He was not very bold, but he did hurry to walk ahead of me as I made my way along the passage. “Lady Hana, His Majesty is meeting with his generals and would not appreciate—”
“You know what else he would not appreciate? His cousin being forced to shout for him in the passage, making a scene. However, if you’d prefer I got his attention that way, by all means stand in my way.”
Wen’s eyes widened and he fell back. I had shaken him off balance, but he followed as I got my bearings and made for the emperor’s apartments.
At the sound of Katashi’s voice, my steps faltered. My heart seemed to drop right through the floor as I realised the enormity of what I was about to do. Like Wen, Katashi had only known Captain Regent, never Lady Hana.
I rapped on the door before fear got the better of me.
Inside, the voices halted, and letting out a gust of breath, Wen slid open the door. “Excuse me, Your Majesty,” he said, the polished words not coming easily to his tongue. “It’s Lady Hana. She is very intent on seeing you.”
“Tell her I will see her when I am finished here. We have important business—”
“Then I will join you,” I said, stepping in and drawing the gaze of half a dozen men I didn’t recognise—and Katashi. He knelt at the end of a long table in the same crimson robes Kin wore, but in all other ways, he was the Captain Monarch I had first met at Nivi Fen, right down to his beautifully lopsided smile. “My dear cousin,” he said, emphasising the word as though in reproof for the secret I had kept. “I am so glad to see you are finally up and about. We have all been very concerned for your well-being.”
In a flurry of silk and awkward coughs, the other men at the table rose and bowed, murmuring my name.
“My thanks, Your Majesty,” I said, acknowledging them with a nod. “I am, as you see, quite well now.” I settled myself at an empty place at the table. “Do continue the meeting.”
All eyes turned to Katashi, and with a nod to the gathered men, he said, “Family will not wait, it seems. Let us adjourn until General Manshin arrives this afternoon.”
With many a nod and bow and murmuring of “Your Majesty,” the men once more rose from the table and headed for the door. Annoyed that he would rather send them away than let me take part, I might have protested, but Katashi’s smile had vanished beneath a thundercloud. I kept my peace and waited until the last one departed, leaving Wen to slide the door closed behind them.
From the other end of the table, Katashi sighed. “Are you so intent on embarrassing me?” he said. “First you don’t tell me who you are so I must suffer the humiliation of having my cousin captured by the Usurper, and now you force your way into an important meeting with generals newly come to my cause. Any who believed you to be in Kin’s confidence, or his bed, have only more reason to think so now!”
He could not have shocked me more with a slap. I leant back, fingers gripping the edge of the table. “Excuse me?”
“Why else the desperate need to listen in on our plans?”
Katashi gave a satisfied huff as my jaw dropped. All too well could I see why his allies might make such an assumption. “I am no spy.”
“No? Well, Cousin, I feel proper introductions are in order then, since this is the first time we’ve met. I am Emperor—”
“Oh no, don’t do that. I’m sorry, all right? Malice is… very good at… persuasion. He had a hundred reasons why it was important you didn’t know who I was, and they all sounded sensible. And some of them were. If you had known who I was, you would never have allowed me to do any of the things I wanted to be a part of, would you?”
“Allow you to parade around as a soldier and risk your life for nothing but the fun of it? No.”
“See? I had no interest in exchanging one pair of shackles for another.”
He frowned at me across the table, that expression the brooding look I’d often stared at across a crowded camp, wanting him to look my way. “You could have died,” he said at last. “And what then?”
“Since you didn’t know I was alive, you would never have known let alone cared.”
“But I knew you. And I would have cared.”
The words sent my heart racing, but I shook my head. “Now that is nonsense.”
His lips curved into an amused smile and my heart beat all the faster. “Is it? You’re very sure of yourself. I wondered how different you would be as yourself, how much of Captain Regent had been an act. I’m glad to see not much, since I had begun to like him all too well.”
How impossible to respond to such words with my heart in my throat. This was not the conversation I had expected, and I swallowed hard, trying to recall what I’d come to say.
When nothing came out, Katashi nodded at the cushion next to him. “Come, sit closer. I feel like I have to shout with you all the way down there.”
Almost I refused, the memory of the kiss that might have been a sudden specter. I had wanted it more than anything in that moment and did not trust myself. Did not trust a body that yearned so fiercely to be near him.
I rose and shifted closer, not to the cushion beside him but to the one a spot farther away. “You think I’m going to bite, sweet Regent?” he mocked.
“No, but you probably shouldn’t call me that in case someone hears you.”
“There is no one else to hear me. Now why don’t you tell me what was so important it couldn’t wait until I had finished meeting with my council?”
Could I demand to know how many people he had executed in the last few days? It ought not to have been a question that needed asking. “Did so many people have to die, Katashi?” I said, a softer plea than I had meant to charge him with. “Tili tells me you have not only had Kin’s courtiers and councillors executed if they did not swear to you, but servants too.”
“I have done no more or less than Kin himself did after he took the throne,” he said, brows lifting in surprise. “The number of people who were labelled traitors and executed with my father was in the hundreds, many who had done nothing but be employed by our family. Whatever your maid has told you, I have not gone that far, but neither can I give anyone the opportunity to betray me. If I do, this will all have been for nothing. This may look like a big win, Hana, but my power is fragile until I can consolidate my hold on the north. Or find Kin.” Eyes that had been looking at the table pinned me then. “It would be good to know where he is.”
“You say that like you think I know. I have been asleep for three days.”
“And living with him for three weeks.”
I attempted haughty disdain. “If you think he told me anything of his plans in that time, then you are very mistaken. He trusted me no more than you seem to.”
“You haven’t given me any reason to yet.”
“How can you say so? I may not have told you who I was, but I fought for you.” I reached for his hand only to pull back and rest mine upon the table. “I wanted to fight for the throne and for our family so much that Malice brought his Vices into play. Where would you have been without them? Without us?”
Katashi pulled back his silk sleeve and gently set his hand on mine. His was larger, his skin darker, but both were hands used to work, with calluses and scars and short fingernails—nothing like the hands a lord and lady ought to have. I stared at them. It was just a hand, just a touch, yet again, I was back beneath the Kissing Tree with my whole body aflame.
“I don’t like your Malice,” Katashi said as though he were not holding my hand. “I don’t trust him.”
“Neither do I anymore.”
He’d sent me a message in that blood. A message full of hate.
Katashi threaded his fingers around mine. “The Usurper told me he asked you to marry him.”
“There has been a lot of talk that you were… on his side.”
He looked at our hands, joined in a tangle upon the smooth tabletop. I hoped he could not feel just how hard my heart was pounding. “I did not accept him.”
“People still talk.”
“And they will say I am here now.”
A smile flittered about his lips, and he leant in, closing the space between us that had already been too small. His fingers tightened around mine. “You’re right. It doesn’t matter. Once we’re married, I’ll have more claim than—”
“Married?” I slipped my hand from his, leaving the room much colder. “Katashi, I never said I would marry you. I never said I wanted to marry at all.”
“No, you didn’t.” He grimaced. “I had not meant to say it so… presumptuously, but my advisors speak much of your political value.” His admission brought Kin to mind, pacing before me as he spoke of responsibilities and duty. “I didn’t tell them you were already more valuable to me than that. I have regretted not kissing you that night, you know, Captain, every day fearing I might never have the opportunity again.”
When I did not speak, he leant still closer until I could feel the touch of his breath. A delighted shiver rippled through my skin. “Did you think of me too? Or not? My heart is yours to break.”
I had thought of him, had often imagined that kiss, had even imagined his smile made sleepy on a pillow beside me. “Every day,” I said, stupidly truthful, for whatever my mind said, my body yearned for his, intoxicated by his confidence and his smile, his strength and those bright eyes rimmed in long, dark lashes. Always so expressive, always laughing or frowning or mocking or owning a hunger that sent my heart racing.
He traced a line down my cheek. “But you don’t want to marry me?”
“It’s not… you. I don’t want to marry anyone.”
“Why not?” he whispered in my ear, his cheek against mine. “Don’t you want to experience the joys of being a woman? I can assure you they are… quite considerable.”
There was a lot of fabric in my robe and under-robe, and yet his hand seemed to slip through with ease, knowing its way. His lips brushed mine, and with that teasing graze of skin on skin, I could think of nothing but how much I wanted to feel everything his hands and his lips promised.
But it was not why I had come, not what I had wanted, and I fought the haze of desire that made every thought fuzzy. “I’m sure they are,” I said, gripping his arm to halt his hand upon my knee. “But…”
An uncertain little half smile hovered about his lips while his gaze hunted my face. “If you’re worried I only want you for your political value, then I am even more sorry I didn’t say something sooner. I kept telling myself you had to be a Vice. It seemed foolish to hope you were your own master.” I thought of all the times I could have spoken and how different things might have been. “You look surprised,” he added when I did not speak. “Did I need to know who you really were to want you?”
He made to slide his hand free of my robe, but I kept hold of his arm. “I knew who you were,” I said.
“That doesn’t mean my name was the only reason you stared at me.” Once again, he leant in close but did not touch his lips to mine. Heat seared through my every vein. “May I make up for my mistakes now, Captain?”
I leant the rest of the way, thinking of nothing but the kiss that had already once been denied me. “They aren’t only your mistakes. Captain.”
He laughed, a delicious sound cut off abruptly as he finally pressed a full kiss to my lips, a fierce kiss that pushed me to the floor and left me breathless. The hand he’d wormed inside my robe slid up my leg, and losing all sense, I pressed myself against him. He groaned, and while I wasn’t sure what I wanted him to do, I wanted him to do it now.
What had started as a slow caress of my leg became a frenzied gathering of my robe. He ran a hungry line of kisses down my neck and onto the silk, tracking on down my body until his lips found my stomach and his broad shoulders were between my legs.
I wanted to ask what he was doing but did not want him to stop. I wanted to ask why he was kissing me there but dared not interrupt. And then when his tongue slid inside me, I had no thought of questions except how this feeling could be made to last forever.
A tap sounded on the door, shocking me back to a meeting room where only thin paper screens stood between us and the rest of the world. “Your Majesty, you wanted to know when General—”
The door slid. Pinned beneath Katashi, I could only yelp, but propped on his elbows he reared up with a snarl. “Damn it, Wen, not now!”
As hastily as the door had been opened, the door closed, leaving Katashi and I in an awkward tangle. Lifting my rucked-up robe, he kissed my stomach, but all desire had fled, leaving behind nothing but cold reality.
“No. No! Katashi, please, stop,” I said, gripping a handful of his hair as his lips once more caressed my skin. “I… I think I know why you are doing this, and I still don’t want to marry you.” I wriggled away from him, and as he lifted his head, a flash of anger lit his eyes.
“You want someone else?”
“No! I just… don’t want to be a wife, even of an emperor.”
“Then what do you want?”
I laid my head upon the floor and stared at the heavy beams of the ceiling rather than at him. “I want… I want my own position,” I said, my chest rapidly rising and falling. “I want to make a difference, Katashi. I want to be someone, not just someone’s wife.”
“Reduced to a mere someone,” he said, seeming to mock himself with a breathless laugh. “How utterly set down I am.”
For the briefest of moments, he rested his forehead upon my leg, before he sat up, the fragile sense of companionship broken. “You had better go,” he said, rising to his feet and straightening his robe and his topknot, all hint of a smile vanishing as he turned away. “I have a lot a work to do.”
I got to my feet and tried to tidy my robe and my sash, but fixing one seemed only to make the other sit more askew.
“Wen,” Katashi called, and the red-faced Pike slid open the door. “Ensure Lady Hana makes it safely back to her room.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Katashi would not look at me, and unable to think of something to say, I let Wen usher me out. It wasn’t until I reached my room that I realised I had asked only one of my questions, and I felt even more lost than I had before.
- On Sale
- Aug 4, 2020
- Page Count
- 384 pages