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Victor, Vanquished, Son


“It’s tempting,” he said.

“I also know Irrien,” Stephania went on. “I hear that you want him dead almost as much as me.”

She saw the shift in his expression then, and she knew that she had him.

“He has weaknesses you don’t know about,” Stephania said. “Using them, we can kill him, and with me by your side, it will be obvious for us to command the Empire, as well as Felldust. Two countries, forming the greatest empire the world has seen.”

It was the same offer that she had made Irrien, but Stephania could see immediately that Ulren was not the same as the First Stone. Irrien had been so certain of his own power that Stephania’s efforts had bounced from him like stones from armor. Ulren was anything but certain of his position.

“And in return for this you want marriage?” Ulren said.

Stephania smiled. “There are those who would regard it as a bonus, not a price. Think about it, First Stone. How long has it been since a woman wanted to come to your bed? How long has it been since you gave up hope of a son to follow you? A dynasty to remember your name?”

Ulren didn’t need to know that Stephania’s chances of having children now were almost certainly gone, just as he didn’t need to see the obvious: that with a husband so old, it wouldn’t be long before Stephania ruled by herself.

She could see his hunger for it, and when he caught her up in his arms, Stephania knew that she had him.

“Very well,” Ulren said. “We will marry. I’ll have a priest brought. We will have to marry quickly.”

“Quickly, but as publicly as possible,” Stephania said. It would be necessary to have the biggest impact, but it also meant that Ulren wouldn’t be able to put her aside when it became inconvenient, the way Thanos had. “I think that we’re going to do great things together.”

Ulren kissed her then, and it was as terrible as Stephania could have imagined. She forced herself to think about how good revenge on Irrien would feel, and how much better it would be when she took her son back from Daskalos.

For that, she could put up with almost anything.

CHAPTER TEN

Daskalos took a moment or two to bask in satisfaction as Telum stood within his home, sharpening a blade with the expertise of a well-trained warrior, not a boy only a few days old. He was a honed thing now. A deadly thing. Daskalos’s magic had failed so many times in this, but this time it had produced everything he could have hoped for.

In the space Daskalos’s power had created, the boy had grown into a young man, hardened by training, sharpened as much as the sword he held. He had as much strength as any man, and more skill. His whole life was dedicated to the purpose Daskalos had given him: to kill.

Daskalos had given him more than that. Magic rippled through the boy’s muscles, so that he would strike harder, heal faster. The blade he held was a thing of meteorite iron, carved with runes promising the death of its wielder’s foes. Daskalos had given his creation armor of living crystal, strong as steel and filled with magic.

“Are you ready to do what I have commanded?” Daskalos asked. “Are you ready to kill?”

Telum rose to stand before him. “Yes, Father.”

Daskalos nodded in satisfaction. He had seen too many attempts go wrong before this. He had watched boys twisted into dying, shapeless things. He had found some become physically perfect, only for their minds to be weak, or torn apart by the power running through them. With Telum, with his weapon, he had succeeded.


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