The Ashes of Worlds


By Kevin J. Anderson

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The rollicking sequel to Fortune’s Pawn — an action packed science fiction novel.

Devi Morris has a lot of problems. And not the fun, easy-to-shoot kind either.
After a mysterious attack left her short several memories and one partner, she’s determined to keep her head down, do her job, and get on with her life. But even though Devi’s not actually looking for it — trouble keeps finding her. She sees things no one else can, the black stain on her hands is growing, and she is entangled with the cook she’s supposed to hate.
But when a deadly crisis exposes far more of the truth than she bargained for, Devi discovers there’s worse fates than being shot, and sometimes the only people you can trust are the ones who want you dead.


Copyright © 2008 by WordFire, Inc.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.


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First eBook Edition: July 2008

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-03271-1


The Saga of Seven Suns

Hidden Empire

A Forest of Stars

Horizon Storms

Scattered Suns

Of Fire and Night

Metal Swarm

The Ashes of Worlds

Available from Wildstorm/DC Comics

Veiled Alliances (graphic novel)


Admiral Sheila Willis

Ten Mantas and one giant Juggernaut cruised across empty space, leaving Earth behind — possibly forever, as far as Admiral Willis was concerned. Though her ships still bore the markings of the Earth Defense Forces, their crews no longer served the Hansa. No, not after everything they had seen.

Chairman Wenceslas would have called them mutineers. How could anyone not feel bitter about that?

There'd been a time when Willis was young and naïve (or perhaps just insufficiently jaded), when she had thought all decisions were clear-cut, all answers black-and-white. She had believed that the good guys were fundamentally different from the bad guys. Well, she'd left that attitude behind on Rhejak when General Lanyan's brutality had forced her to make a previously unthinkable decision.

By seizing a whole battle group and turning her back on her beloved EDF, she had set wheels in motion — wheels that might well run her over. After dumping Lanyan, Conrad Brindle, and a handful of hard-line loyalists on the outskirts of Earth's solar system, she was taking her ships to Theroc, to join King Peter and his Confederation.

No matter how many times she tried to rationalize her decision, though, it still felt like desertion. Her brain was simply wired that way. She scanned the people on her bridge for signs of uneasiness. Willis was surprised at just how many of them had volunteered to burn their bridges and join her. Abandoning their homes, friends, families, and possessions was not a decision to make lightly. Obviously, she wasn't the only one who had smelled something rotten in the Hansa.

The last time she had brought these particular Mantas to Theroc, Willis had been under orders to arrest Peter as an outlaw ruler. . . .

"Approaching destination, Admiral," said her helmsman.

"Make sure you announce our arrival politely. We don't want them to pee their pants when all these warships show up." She took a few moments to adjust her posture, her uniform, her expression. Ready to go meet the new boss.

As soon as the eleven ships entered planetary orbit, however, Willis saw that something was wrong. A flurry of mismatched Roamer ships had been launched into erratic orbits. Cargo craft, fast scouts, lumbering barges all lifted off from the forested continent and raced away from the planet in all directions. Two of the larger Roamer ships nearly collided with each other.

Her young comm officer's skin turned prominently pink. "Admiral, it's total pandemonium down there! Frantic distress calls, screams — Theroc is being attacked, but I can't see how."

The threatening verdani treeships that circled the lush forested world like a crown of thorns were in trouble. Thrashing their enormous thorny branches, they did not even react to the oncoming EDF war vessels. They were battling some pervasive, unseen enemy.

"Ask how we can assist them," Willis barked. She looked around for any unexpected threat . . . perhaps the return of the hydrogues or one of General Lanyan's vessels. "Get close enough to respond as needed. We're supposed to be the cavalry here — I'd like to make a great first impression."

The feedback shrieks coming over the comm system were worse than fingernails scraping across a chalkboard.

Cruising directly in front of them, its boughs twisting and snapping as if in extreme internal pain, one of the thorny tree battleships literally burst into flames. Despite the cold vacuum of space, bright yellow-orange fire cracked out of its core and spread across the branches, devouring the energized wood.

On the high-res surveillance scans of the forests below, Willis saw intense blazes appear, spontaneously igniting and beginning to spread through the dense worldforest . . . exactly where she knew King Peter had established the Confederation's headquarters.


King Peter

Another worldtree shuddered and then erupted into flames as the faeros possessed its heartwood. With sounds like cannon shots, the malicious fires crackled through the delicate fronds, striving toward the canopy — burning, but not entirely consuming the heartwood.

High up within the fungus-reef city, King Peter shouted for the people to evacuate. The smoke and heat in the air bit the back of his throat. From an opening in the organic walls, he and Estarra saw the flames race greedily up one trunk after another, but none of the living verdani turned to ash. Not yet.

The green priests who remained inside the white-walled tree city clamped hands like vises against their smooth emerald scalps as pain surged through the worldforest mind. The followers of Yarrod and Kolker, who were joined in their tightly bonded thism/telink web, had already suffered most of all.

A male green priest stuttered to a halt, then raised his arms in agony. The priest bent backward and with a wordless wail burst into flames. Other green priests stared at the smear of ash and burning coals that marked where the man had stood. Some wept; others collapsed to their knees.

Queen Estarra tugged her husband's sleeve as they ran from the shuddering throne room. "Peter, we have to get Reynald and go!" Her beaded braids clicked and bounced behind her head.

In their private rooms, Estarra snatched their baby son from the arms of the Teacher compy OX, who had already gathered him up for the evacuation. Little Reynald was crying from the loud commotion and the smoke from brush fires.

OX was not at all panicked. "Before we hurry to the lift platforms, Queen Estarra, I suggest we soak a blanket with water. I will wrap it around the baby for protection as I carry him." When Estarra was reluctant to relinquish the child, OX pointed out, "I am physically stronger than either of you, and neither the fire nor the smoke will affect me."

"He's right," Peter said, yanking a blanket from the bed and running to the water basin that Roamer engineers had installed. "It's his best chance."

Outside, the elemental fires continued to spread. After being transmitted through the few hapless green priest conduits, the faeros had formed a parasitic bond with the verdani, converting them into torch trees. From there, secondary blazes had spread to the underbrush, consuming smaller shrubs and plants.

Peter and Estarra wrapped the wet cloth around the squirming infant and secured the wailing bundle to OX's chest with a utility cord. The Teacher compy held Reynald firmly, keeping pace with the King and Queen as they rushed through winding fungus-reef passages to the outer balconies.

Breathing heavily, Peter stepped out into the choking hot air and watched the faeros flames jump from one tree to the next. Normal fires raced across the fringes of the clearing, where people ran pell-mell away from the fungus-reef tree.

Therons crowded the small lift platforms, trying to ride the cables down to the ground. But the elevators were equipped to carry only a few people at a time, not to accommodate such a massive evacuation. When sixteen people crammed onto one platform, clutching the side rails and each other, the overloaded lift groaned and gave way, spilling the passengers to their deaths. Watching in horror, Peter shouted, but he couldn't help them.

For just a moment the scope and suddenness of the disaster knocked the wind out of him. Even if everyone got to the ground, how would they cross the meadow safely through growing curtains of flames? There was no time to wonder how this had happened and no time for panic or grief either. Peter had to keep his wits about him and somehow get his people, and his family, to safety.

Estarra saw it, too, and quickly made her decision. "We'll have to climb." In answer to Peter's concerned expression, she gave a confident nod. "It doesn't matter that I've just had a baby. I spent most of my life scrambling up and down worldtrees. If OX can carry Reynald safely, we should be fine. Can you manage?"

Flashing her a determined smile, Peter shouted to the frantic people, "Every able-bodied person, climb down! Treedancers, help the others. Use the platforms only if you can't climb."

A few of the overcrowded elevators managed to reach the ground, and the people sprinted across the meadow toward the ring of fire. By now, the fungus-reef tree had caught fire from eager sparks that spread from the initial torch trees. Tongues of flame raced up the golden bark, consuming small fronds, scorching the bark plates, until part of the city began to smolder.

Some people swiftly grasped knobs and handholds in the bark scales. Peter could see they didn't have much time. "Let's go."

Because OX had lashed the blanket-wrapped baby to his torso, his polymer arms were left free. Without further comment, the compy swung himself over the edge and began to climb down. Peter had never seen OX do anything so nimble or athletic before, but the Teacher compy seemed perfectly capable of working his way down.

Estarra went next, calling out encouragement to the people still evacuating. Peter followed. Smoke and steam oozed from between the bark plates, burning his hands, but he didn't let go.

The compy reached the ground first and turned to wait for the King and Queen. He adjusted the wet wrappings around the infant, keeping Reynald secured to his solid chest. By now the wildfire had caught on the grasses and flowers; shrubs burst into fireballs. Above them, the fungus reef was fully engulfed, and orange flames spat from the upper balconies and windows.

Peter dropped the rest of the way to the ground. "To the edge of the meadow!"

Like solar flares, living arcs of fire sprang from torch tree to torch tree. With a crack like an incandescent bullwhip, another majestic worldtree succumbed to the fiery elementals. Its interlocked canopy of fronds became a ceiling of orange embers; smaller branches caught and transmitted sparks to adjacent ones.

While OX hurried ahead of them, carrying the baby, Estarra kept her head down and ran. But, before they could follow the evacuees into the dense surrounding forest, flames cut them off. The perimeter of the grove formed a burning wall, forcing OX to halt ahead of them.

With a crack and a roar, a thick branch broke loose from above, and a clump of flaming fronds crashed directly down onto the compy in a feathery spray of sparks and embers.

Estarra screamed for the baby. Peter shielded his stinging eyes and dove toward them, but he knew he was too late to save his son.

The little compy pushed his way out, knocking aside the blazing fronds. He kept his synthetic body hunched over, arms wrapped protectively around Reynald. OX's polymer skin was damaged; ash and soot were smeared like war paint on his smooth face, but his systems still functioned.

Estarra raced forward in panic to retrieve Reynald. Peeling the steaming blanket away, Peter checked to make sure the baby hadn't been burned. The little boy was wailing, but very much alive.

Green grass smoldered around them, making the smoke burn like acid in their lungs. Estarra pointed desperately across the meadow to the diamond sphere of the hydrogue derelict, which OX had flown during their escape from Earth. "There! That's our only way out!"

With nowhere else to run, they crashed through the embers of underbrush until they reached the small alien ship. Thankfully, the hatch had been left open. As flames flicked at their heels, Peter and Estarra, along with OX and the baby, clambered inside. Peter sealed the doorway behind them, and the sudden silence made his ears pop. They slapped at the ashes burning their garments, wheezing, coughing, frightened, and shaking with exertion. But safe.

Through the transparent curved wall, they watched angry flames engulf the rest of the meadow and then rush over them.


Chairman Basil Wenceslas

Outside in the Palace District's main square, the Archfather of Unison carried an elaborate shepherd's crook. He wore golden damask robes ornamented with frills and simulated brocades, and he looked like a jovial old uncle with a long, bushy white beard. The religious spokesman delivered another rousing speech, carefully scripted by Chairman Wenceslas.

People could so easily be distracted without a firm hand to guide them.

When properly motivated, the Archfather, a former actor, could really tug on the heartstrings of an audience. Unfortunately, though, during recent coaching sessions the man had begun to express doubts about the Chairman's agenda. The Archfather had spent altogether too much time reviewing images of the bloody Usk pogrom. Initially, he had been enthusiastic about delivering a stern message to the upstart colony world — razing the farming town, crucifying the defiant town elders — yet he now questioned the necessity of such actions.

In times like these, Basil expected his underlings to do what they were told for the good of the Hansa and, by extension, the human race. They were not supposed to have second thoughts. With harsh words and overt threats, he had put the man back in his place, leaving him white and shaking.

Making certain the Archfather had learned his lesson, Basil watched the show from the Whisper Palace observation gallery, accompanied by a concerned-looking Sarein and an unusually contemplative Deputy Eldred Cain.

"The Archfather is doing well today," Sarein pointed out. "You talked to him, didn't you?"

"I had to fan the flames of his enthusiasm a bit. This time he seems to have gotten the point."

From the square below, the bearded man bellowed his words. "Yes, the Klikiss are demons, but demons cannot help what they are. They may be evil, they may be destructive, but it is in their very nature. Far worse are those who choose evil — people who ally themselves with the Klikiss, with the demons, with our enemies. By this, I mean our treacherous King Peter and his rebellious Confederation."

The sermon was, naturally, being transmitted across Earth. Cargo ships and fast traders would deliver recordings of the Archfather's message to the handful of colonies and industrial worlds that still paid lip service to the Hansa.

In his seat, Deputy Cain looked decidedly uncomfortable, and Basil could tell he wanted to say something. He sighed, waiting. "What is it, Mr. Cain?"

The deputy answered promptly. "Complaints have been forwarded to me by several law-enforcement stations, sir. The police don't know what to do about them."

Basil's eyebrows drew together. "Complaints? There are always complaints."

"These seem to have some merit. It appears that a well-organized vigilante group has taken it upon itself to quell certain public discussions." Cain pulled out a report. "For example, here are two incidents in which the group smashed businesses and roughed people up. They target anyone who speaks out against the Hansa. They don't even try to hide themselves." He presented surveillance images and pointed to a young woman wearing a dark uniform. "This costume appears to be based on early EDF uniform designs. I have identified one of the ringleaders responsible for these strong-arm tactics, a woman named Shelia Andez, an EDF officer."

"Yes, I know. I reassigned her myself," Basil said. "She spearheads an elite force to help maintain order and loyalty on Earth. I call these soldiers my cleanup crew, though I suppose they deserve a more formal name."

"You're actually aware of this? Their activities go against any number of laws."

"Andez is doing the work I've assigned her. What you call strong-arm tactics, I view as a last-ditch effort to maintain much-needed order. The Hansa is in an extremely fragile state right now."

The people in the square below suddenly cheered, and the Chairman turned to watch, brushing aside Cain's concerns. The Archfather bowed. Basil tried to recall what particular line might have evoked such a reaction; he decided to review the tapes later. That way he could also critique the man's performance.

The Archfather lowered his voice as if he were telling a secret to billions of listeners, delivering the preposterous suggestion with complete gravity — the very part of the speech to which the man had objected so strenuously before Basil had vetoed his concerns. "King Peter and his fellow traitors in the Confederation may actively be playing into the plans of the Klikiss. Roamer clans may be assisting the demon creatures in their conquests. In an insidious plot to destroy our beloved Hansa, the Confederation rebels and the Klikiss have agreed to split what's left of the Spiral Arm between themselves."

The audience gasped, predictably and on cue.

"That's ridiculous, Basil," Sarein muttered. "Please be cautious. When accusations get so extreme, you can't really expect people to believe them."

Basil gave her a hard sidelong look. "I disagree. It is a perfectly reasonable conclusion, considering what else the people have been told. We can't afford to lose popular support right now. Our attempted pogrom at Rhejak was a complete mess." He felt his face flush with anger and embarrassment. "Admiral Willis deserted us, taking a Juggernaut and ten Mantas. General Lanyan returned home like a whipped dog, in total disgrace."

"You've kept his ignominious defeat very quiet." Cain looked up at him. "Where is the General now?"

"I've had to remove him from public view until he can fix the problem that he caused."

"How is he going to accomplish that?" Sarein did not seem to look forward to the answer. "I thought you would consult with us — "

"It was straightforward enough. I gave him the opportunity to achieve a clear victory." Basil laced his fingers behind his head, careful not to mess his steel-gray hair. "King Peter's outlaw Confederation is our enemy, and we must treat them as such. They have resources that we require, primarily ekti. Therefore, we'll raid Roamer facilities and take what we need. After all, we're at war." His lips quirked in a smile, willfully ignoring the horrified expressions on his companions' faces. "General Lanyan's battle group is on its way to a known Roamer skymining center. Our intelligence suggests they have no viable defenses. It is my fervent hope that the General can finally redeem himself."


General Kurt Lanyan

The Juggernaut Goliath, five Manta cruisers, a Thunderhead weapons platform, more than two thousand Remoras fully loaded with jazers and explosive projectiles — yes, that would keep even the most unruly clans in line. General Lanyan was quite certain of an EDF victory at Golgen.

He was glad to be at the helm of his Juggernaut again. The Goliath had been heavily damaged in the fighting at the end of the hydrogue war, but the giant vessel had finally been repaired and placed back into service. One small step toward having a fully capable EDF again.

Acquiring plenty of stardrive fuel . . . that was the next step.

When the gas giant came into view, Lanyan transmitted to the lead Manta in the attack group. "Admiral Brindle, verify that all personnel are at their stations, all Remora pilots ready to launch, and all weapons ready to fire. I don't intend to leave anything to chance here."

The older, dark-skinned commander acknowledged. Recently promoted to fill one of the officer slots vacated by the decimation of the Earth Defense Forces, Conrad Brindle left no doubts about his competence or dedication. When the rest of the Rhejak battle group had mutinied, Brindle had been one of the few who remained loyal to the EDF. The promotion and this new assignment were his reward.

Lanyan straightened in his command chair, loudly cleared his throat, and addressed his subcommanders. "According to our fast recon and recent intel, Golgen has more than a dozen skymines, but they're industrial facilities, not military bases. Once we've knocked down any resistance, our objective is to seize their stores of stardrive fuel." Now his voice held a cautionary tone. "But cause as little damage as possible. We want these facilities to remain functional. The Chairman wants to return and administer the facilities under Hansa auspices. For now, the EDF just needs the ekti."

Sounding battle stations, the warships raced toward a buttery-yellow globe laced with white cloud bands. Long-distance sensors spotted towering cities that rode the cloud tops converting atmospheric hydrogen into ekti.

As the main attack group fanned out, the Mantas each approached a different Roamer skymine, while the Thunderhead remained in a stationary position, a citadel on higher ground. "Remember, Roamers are cowards at heart," Lanyan continued. "They like to run and hide. They sneak around in unmarked ships, keeping their locations secret. It's not in their nature to fight." The Goliath headed toward the largest skymine, a complex of many floating platforms abuzz with space traffic and support vehicles.

He shook his head in disgust. "Just look at them all!"

Once, as a boy, he had turned over a rotten log to find it squirming with tiny black beetles. Suddenly exposed to the light, the insects had scattered, seeking dark corners and holes in which to hide. He had taken a stick and spent more than an hour hunting down and crushing the small bugs.

These Roamer ships reacted as the beetles had. Instead of mounting an orderly defense, the mismatched clan ships flew in all directions, every man for himself. The General found it pathetic. He gave his anxious weapons officers permission to take as many potshots as they liked.

On the crowded screen, he identified the spidery cargo escorts holding canisters of ekti. He pointed his index finger, raising his voice. "There! Those are the ships I was telling you about. Remember my orders."

His weapons officers fired at the evacuating cargo escorts, aiming carefully and missing intentionally. The barrage, however, was merely a diversion so that tiny pingers could attach to the hulls without the Roamer pilots noticing. The locator beacons would activate later so that Lanyan could track the cargo escorts to other fuel-distribution depots. If the EDF made a diligent effort, they could unravel the whole Roamer network and find all of their hidden facilities.

As the raid commenced, Lanyan ignored the outraged cries and threatening comm messages from the skymine managers. "Prepare to be boarded," he transmitted to the largest facility. "With your unconditional surrender, we can eliminate — or at least minimize — casualties."

A gruff voice yelled back at him, "This is Del Kellum, and I'm in charge of this skymine. I do not — repeat, do not — grant you permission to land."

Lanyan chuckled. "Exactly how are you going to stop me? With harsh language and a disapproving look?" He switched off the transmission, stood up, and stretched.

An hour later, from a troop transport filled with heavily armed EDF soldiers, Lanyan looked out at the enormous floating city with its many decks and docks, its antennae, sensor probes, and observation balconies. The Goliath hung nearby, huge and ominous in the sky. Admiral Brindle had already reported a swift victory at his assigned skymine, as had the other EDF Mantas. Chairman Wenceslas was going to be pleased when he heard how much stardrive fuel this operation would yield.

Before disembarking, the General checked his uniform, quickly combed his dark hair, and surveyed the guards ready to exit the transport with him. Lanyan thought of the successful commanders he had learned about in military school, their proud victory speeches on conquered ground. He wanted to make a memorable impression here when he set foot on the beaten skymine and showed everyone that he was not to be trifled with.

The hatch opened, and he stepped proudly down the ramp. "I hereby take control of this new facility in the name of the Hansa."

A group of agitated Roamers waited for him. He recognized bearded Del Kellum, with his barrel chest and his angry expression. Next, he saw a completely unexpected young man, who would have looked more familiar had he been wearing an EDF uniform.

"General Lanyan," said Patrick Fitzpatrick III, "I see my new opinion of you was absolutely correct."


Jess Tamblyn

Once, Charybdis had been a primeval ocean world whose turbulent seas hosted countless thriving wentals. And then the faeros had come.

Jess and Cesca had not been here when angry fireballs had rained down to blast the elemental seas, but now they stood together on the smoking ruin of the planet. The air was laden with heavy sulfurous steam, the cadaverous smell of dead wentals. He drew a deep breath, felt the anger burn through him.

This is war.

"The Roamers can help us," Cesca said, her voice brittle with fury at the sight of the blackened, glassy landscape that had once been a calm and fertile sea. "We should ask the clans to join our fight."

Kneeling, Jess put his fingers in a warm, scum-covered puddle. The water felt oily and dead. He shook his head, trying to find an independent reservoir on Charybdis. Something must have survived. "What possible weapons could Roamers devise against them?"

Cesca raised her eyebrows. "Jess Tamblyn, are you really doubting Roamer ingenuity?"

He took hope from that, and with his fingers still dripping, he began to walk across the wasteland. Understanding the wentals all too well, he did know what the largest problem was. "Wentals and verdani are forces of life and stability. Hydrogues and faeros are the embodiments of destruction. When they clash, the chaos and aggression inevitably overwhelm the quiet and peace. The wentals don't know how to fight effectively against an enemy like this."

Cesca followed him. "Unless we change the rules of engagement."

A small crack opened up in the ground, and steam sighed out like the last gasp of another wental that had surrendered to its fate.

Ten thousand years ago the wentals and verdani had nearly been annihilated in the great war. Sorely beaten, the hydrogues were driven into their gas-giant planets, and the faeros took up residence in their stars. When hostilities had flared up again, the unresolved conflict triggered into full fury. But now the landscape of the Spiral Arm was quite different.


On Sale
May 1, 2009
Page Count
720 pages

Kevin J. Anderson

About the Author

Kevin J. Anderson has written forty-six national bestsellers and has over twenty million books in print worldwide in thirty languages. He has been nominated for the Nebula Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the SFX Readers’ Choice Award. Find out more about Kevin Anderson at

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