FROM CHAPTER 26.…
I couldn’t manage to summon a response. What is wrong with me? I’m so impotent, pathetic —
“It will be easier for all if you simply give in, Andriana,” Lord Jala said. “It can be as Keallach said. Together, you will bring peace to the empire. You’ve experienced the worst of the Trading Union. Help us to introduce the best Pacifica has to offer and change all that.”
They were relentless. They’d only keep coming, keep coming, keep coming, until we all bowed down to them or died fighting them.
“I am not interested in power.”
“Aren’t you?” Lord Jala asked lightly. He knelt in front of me, reminding me of Keallach. “You can do great things with power, Andriana. Good things. For you and everyone you love.”
I looked away.
After a long moment, he sighed and rose. “This will be done easily, or it will be done with great difficulty. But Keallach has chosen you, and I now see the wisdom in his choice. So one way or another, it shall be done.”
I dragged my eyes to meet Lord Jala’s. Then Sethos’s. They meant it. They intended to see me betrothed to Keallach. On shaking legs, I rose, fists clenched. “I shall refuse him. In Pacifica, by the emperor’s own edict, no man forces a woman to wed him. Keallach’s as much as told me that himself.” I prayed he hadn’t misled me.
The threat rose up within Sethos, so dark and overwhelm- ing that it felt as if it reached out and choked me.
I swallowed hard, and with the last of my strength refused to shrink from him.
Sethos laughed, under his breath, slid his eyes toward Jala and back to me. “Ah, yes,” he said, reaching out to stroke the line of my jaw. I moved away, disgusted, but he ignored my slight. “There is an empress within this one.” He dropped his hand and leaned close, his breath cool on my neck. “She sim- ply needs to be awakened.”
They left me then, and in their wake the three maidser- vants entered, chattering about what an impression I’d made at the ball, congratulating themselves on a job well done. As if
I were a mere doll that they could dress and wind up and then watch dance the night away. And perhaps that’s what I was.
Nothing more than a shell of what I once was. The betrayer of all I held dear.
A fighter, vanquished.
Misery blanketed me, enfolded me in his arms. And in his firm embrace, I slept.