On Blackened Wings (Paperback)
On Blackened Wings (Paperback)
Book 5 of The Soul Force Saga
He has fallen.
The Binder in Chains.
An archangel of immeasurable power, cast from heaven, arrives to threaten all that our heroes know and care about. Only an unlikely combination of former enemies can stop him and send him back to where he belongs.
Can these desperate forces come together in time to save the kingdom or will the world fall under the Binder’s brutal rule?
The charred stink of burning wood curled Binder’s nose. The remains of the birch clump he’d crashed into still smoldered behind him. With a thought, he snuffed out the flames, leaving only a lingering wisp of smoke.
The Throne of Chains tugged at him, but weakly. He’d landed far from the imperial capital, which, given the size of the hole his arrival created, was just as well. Had he struck a populated area, blocks would have been leveled and thousands killed.
It would be hard enough getting everyone to work together, beginning his rule by killing a large swath of his future subjects would win him no hearts or minds. Though he had the power to compel obedience, in the long run freely given loyalty worked best. The other archangels never understood that while he wanted order, he wanted it for the good of all, not for personal glory.
First things first. He’d gotten rid of his wings and reduced his eight-foot height to a more reasonable six for the moment but remained stark naked. That wouldn’t do at all. Humans had the strangest ideas about nudity, still, he didn’t want to get that sort of attention. Appearing to be a lunatic would do him as little good as leveling a city block. Fortunately, his power was such that shaping an outfit out of grass and twigs presented no obstacle.
When he’d finished, Binder wore black trousers and a matching tunic and boots. He made the material light to account for the heat and humidity of the empire’s southern regions. His hair obediently wove itself into a single long braid favored by the locals. With his disguise sorted out, it was time to fly. He could reach the capital before dark if he hurried.
“Hey, mister, what happened?”
Two boys came running toward the blackened trees, their clothes more patch than cloth and filthy as only unsupervised boys could be. He guessed they were both under ten and badly malnourished given their height. One had a tan vest and the other blue. Aside from that, little differentiated them.
“I believe a meteor impacted here. I checked, but the stone must have disintegrated when it hit.”
“Wow!” Blue vest peered at the smoking hole with big brown eyes. “Lucky it didn’t hit you.”
“Indeed,” Binder said. “Why are you two not in school?”
“School?” Tan vest asked as though unfamiliar with the word.
“Yes, you know, a place of learning. The masters teach reading, writing, and basic math. It’s mid-morning, surely you should both be at your lessons.”
Blue vest laughed. “We don’t have lessons, Mister. Only thing orphans do during the day is try and find enough food to survive until morning. We were headed for the brook to fish or gig frogs when the meteor hit.”
Binder stared for a moment but sensed no lie in the boy’s words. At its height, the empire had educated its citizens for free, even those without parents. And no child worried about having food to eat or a roof over his head. True, the orphans would have ended up at a government work camp or in the military, but even forced labor would have been better than scrounging to survive.
“Is your town nearby?” Binder asked.
“It’s not much of a town,” Tan vest pointed behind him. “Just go that way a mile or two. You can’t miss it.”
“Come on,” Blue vest said. “We got fish to catch.”
The boys waved and ran off to the north. Binder wished them a silent good luck and turned in the direction indicated. Perhaps flying to the capital wasn’t the best course. He needed to see with his own eyes what happened to this place. Other matters had turned his gaze away for too long and this was the result.
It took twenty minutes to walk to the small patch of dirt and huts that aspired to be a village. Rice paddies ringed the town and would serve as a minor deterrent to anyone thinking about raiding the place. A dirt road in and out offered the only easy access. From the condition of the huts, he judged the villagers possessed little worth stealing.
A dozen workers in off white smocks and wearing large round hats looked up as he approached. Binder raised a hand and waved. He carried no weapon and should pass easily enough for a simple traveler. He’d made a point of not shaping his costume into anything too fine.
He passed between two of the paddies on his way to the village proper. None of the farmers greeted him, instead bending back down and resuming their work. From the height of the plants it looked like they’d bring in a good harvest.
The moment he reached the village proper a black and tan mastiff came running out of the largest hut barking and snarling.
Binder glared at the animal, stopping its charge, and sending it whining back home. A moment later three men emerged, better dressed and much better fed than any of the farmers. They also carried weapons. Wide, curved swords hung at their waists and the right most carried a cocked crossbow.
The center man was bit thinner and a bit shorter than the other two. He stroked a narrow beard and smiled, displaying yellow teeth. “We don’t get many visitors to our humble village. What brings you by?”
“Just passing through. Shouldn’t you three be helping with the harvest?”
The men laughed so hard their faces turned red. When he’d caught his breath the center man said, “We aren’t farmers. Our job is to protect this village from those who would steal its harvest and harm its people.”
Binder gave the ragged village a meaningful glance. “I can’t imagine other bandits are much of a problem. I’ve seen leper colonies with more to steal.”
The spokesman’s smile vanished. “Are you implying we aren’t earning our keep? You walk into our village and insult us? For an unarmed man you’ve got a lot of guts. Maybe me and the boys will spill ‘em in the dirt. That’ll teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
“Who said I was unarmed?”
Gray chains of pure soul force shot out of nowhere.
They pierced the bigger men’s throats.
Blades appeared on either side of the end link. When Binder called them back, the bandits’ heads plopped to the dirt.
“What are you?” the survivor asked. A trickle of liquid ran out his pant leg and pooled around his feet. Binder grimaced at the stink.
“I am your new emperor. Or I will be soon enough. When I’m finished, there will be no place for leeches like you in this world.”
A nervous chuckle slipped through the bandit’s lips. “You’re going to have to murder most of the population. You think simple bandits like us are bad? The nobles put us to shame. They rob whole territories. We were just trying to survive.”
“I don’t suppose it occurred to you to do something useful to earn your living?”
“Like what?” He gestured at his dead companions. “We have no trade. We grew up orphans. No guild would take us in without sponsors. We don’t even know how to farm. Becoming bandits was better than starving. We had a good thing here, until you showed up. These spineless cowards would rather give us what we needed than risk a fight.”
“You make a fine speech. Nevertheless, your time of preying on these people is over.”
The bandit shot Binder a pitying look. “If it isn’t us, it’ll be another group. There’s always another group.”
“Perhaps your heads on spears outside the village will discourage your peers. If not, I’ll return and kill whoever shows up next. I’ll kill as many as it takes to purify this empire. You humans breed so fast I can afford to sacrifice a generation or two if that’s what it takes.”
The bandit opened his mouth and a chain shot through it. He collapsed beside his worthless friends. Binder shook his head at the waste.
Fixing the empire was going to be a bigger job than he first thought.