The island nation of Servenza is a land of flint and steel, sail and gearwork, of gods both Dead and sleeping…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Ryan Van Loan’s The Justice in Revenge, book two in the Fall of the Gods series. Expect boardroom intrigue, masquerade balls, gondola chases, street gangs, and shapeshifting mages in this fantasy adventure, publishing July 13th with Tor Books. Start here with chapters one and two, or jump in below!
The island nation of Servenza is a land of flint and steel, sail and gearwork, of gods both Dead and sleeping. It is a society where the wealthy few rule the impoverished many.
Determined to change that, former street-rat Buc, along with Eld, the ex-soldier who has been her partner in crime-solving, have claimed seats on the board of the powerful Kanados Trading Company. Buc plans to destroy the nobility from within—which is much harder than she expected.
Stymied by boardroom politics and dodging mages at every turn, Buc and Eld find a potential patron in the Doga, ruler of Servenza. The deal: by the night of the Masquerade, unmask whoever has been attempting to assassinate the Doga, thereby earning her support in the halls of power. Blow the deadline and she’ll have them deported to opposite ends of the world.
Armed with Eld’s razor-sharp sword and Buc’s even sharper intellect, the dynamic duo hit the streets just as the shadow religious conflict between the Gods begins to break into open warfare. Those closest to Buc and Eld begin turning up with their throats slit amid rumors that a hidden mastermind is behind everything that’s going wrong in Servenza.
Facing wrathful gods, hostile nobles, and a secret enemy bent on revenge, Buc and Eld will need every trick in their arsenal to survive. Luckily, extra blades aren’t the only things Buc has hidden up her sleeves.
The Chair’s threats still echoing in my ears, I jumped into the gondola, ducking under the canopy that covered three-quarters of its length, and Joffers nudged the boat out into the canal.
“I think we have a way to control the Board,” I said quickly, taking the seat opposite his before the current sent me tumbling. “Our news about the Doga has broken some things loose. . . .” I quickly filled him in on what the Chair had told me about the Doga, leaving out the part where she threatened us both with exile. “If the Chair is worried, the Doga must be frantic.”
Eld nodded. “There’s got to be a catch.”
I snorted. “Of course there’s a catch. Probably several. We need to have something to hold over her, but if we’re going to use the Board, Eld, we have to support them, aye? Or at least be seen to support them.” I tapped my lip. “I wonder how we can get an audience with the Doga? Leverage our saving her life this morn into controlling the Chair from the shadows?”
He plucked at his tricorne on the seat beside him. “We don’t have to do this, you know? We could give back the seats, or keep them and collect the dividends without showing up. Go do something else.”
“Eld, this is everything we’ve been working toward for years. Gods, man, we both nearly died half a dozen times this summer to get here. Aye, it’s not as straightforward as I thought it’d be, but we’ve a seat at one of the places of power. We’re going to need that power to destroy the Gods.”
“We have been at it for a long time,” he admitted. “I guess I just imagined it all happening . . . differently.” Rain began to fall softly against the canvas top, then harder as the winter winds picked up.
This was what we—I—had been working toward since I’d realized who was really to blame for the suffering I’d grown up in. A disease plagued the world, one that allowed any manner of evils so long as the war was won, a war that wouldn’t end until either Ciris or the Dead Gods no longer existed. But why not both? Why not give the world the chance it never had: to be free? I didn’t think freedom was the magic that would cure all ills, but it would give us the chance to try. We were so close to obtaining the resources required to make that dream a reality and . . . Eld was right. We were failing.
I had to find a way that either forced the Chair’s hand or forced her bony arse out of her seat. I’d reached this conclusion before, several times, but how to achieve it continued to elude me. My schemes to improve sugar production and leverage those profits against the Chair had gone up in flames, taking my chance for a quick coup with them.
“Say, is the gondola drifting?” Eld asked.
“The gondola’s drifting,” Sin said right on top of him. His curse reverberated through my mind—he hated when Eld beat him to anything. “It shouldn’t be possible,” he muttered.
“Joffers?” I called. The old man didn’t answer. Shit. I met Eld’s eyes, saw his widen, caught the shadow against the canopy at his back, and threw myself into a roll. He did the same, passing me as we rolled across the cushion-covered deck. I came up lunging, Sin’s magic making my arm tingle, my fingers both simultaneously numb and dexterous as the blade I kept up my sleeve slid into my palm.
I punched the weapon through the thin canvas. Right into the shadow on the other side. A throaty gasp sprayed the canvas with dark drops. Blood. I jerked the blade out, slammed it home again in the opposite lung, withdrew, and began carving the canopy open, revealing a figure in a full sealskin suit, still dripping wet from the canal’s waters. The man, dark stubble like gunpowder burns blackening his cheeks, gave a bloody gasp and collapsed to the deck with a dull thud. Behind me I heard Eld’s rotating pistole bark twice, but I had no time to see how he was faring as two more would-be assassins, also in dark-grey, fur-seal suits, levered themselves out of the winter-dark canal waters. One leveled a speargun while the other drew a blackened blade the size of my forearm.
Without Sin they would have pinned me to the gunwale and eviscerated me. With Sin, his magic flooding my veins so that my entire body burned like liquid steel, they never had a chance. I leapt forward, time stilling as my mind sought the path for my body to follow. Shoulder to rib cage, wristlock, squeeze, blade falling at an angle with the current.
“When?” Sin asked breathlessly.
I moved like chained lightning, jumping the low cutout of the forward seat and slamming into the one with the speargun. I heard his breath hiss from between clenched teeth at the impact as I kept moving, intertwining my hands over his wrist. His bones cracked with a snap before my supernatural strength and then his arm was my plaything. I turned his speargun—still in his grasp—toward his compatriot and squeezed the trigger. The barbed harpoon punched through the fur suit and sent the assassin flying over the side of the gondola with a strangled grunt. Their legs hit the gunwale and they flipped backward, their blackened blade scything through the air.
I caught the weapon by the hilt, a finger’s breadth above the deck, and stepped backward, driving it up hard behind me. The one who’d held the speargun tried to scream but the blade had impaled his tongue to the roof of his mouth. For a moment we rocked back and forth, the gondola perilously close to overturning, then I found my footing and ran the blade up through his skull. He dropped like a puppet with its strings cut.
“Please,” he cried, his voice thick with effort.
“On your left.” I ripped the weapon free in a wave of gore and flung it behind me, Sin guiding the throw. I spun around, finding the canopy collapsed under the weight of three more invaders. Eld was using his now-empty pistole to parry the blows of a fourth, wielding a shortened trident. Eld’s sword was too long for the close quarters. His pale arm shot out and he caught the hilt of the blade I’d tossed, then swung it low and across and the woman with the trident shrieked, dropping the weapon to the deck, both hands abruptly busy trying to keep her intestines from spilling across the wood. Eld smashed her in the face with the butt of his pistole and she went overboard.
He swung around to the three facing him and growled. “Who’s next?”
I took a step forward, nearly tripping on the spare gondola oar strapped to the deck. It gave me an idea. The oar was fastened down in half a dozen places, too many to cut quickly, but with Sin’s magic I didn’t need to cut anything. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and I all screamed as my magic-infused limbs ripped it free. The heavy oak oar was nearly the length and weight of the gondola itself. I whipped around in a circle, dangerously close to overbalancing as the entire boat pitched and rolled from the violence and the waves.
“High! Low!” I shouted.
Eld dropped to the deck a fraction of a breath before the oar swept through where he’d been standing. I felt the thick beam reverberate as I caught one of the figures in the head and sent
the body spinning into the choppy canal waters. Still spinning, I lowered the oar, grinding my teeth with effort of keeping it level. Eld jumped high as the other two attackers were sent overboard, shouting in pain and fear until they hit the water. I let the oar’s momentum spin me half around again, then dropped it.
My breath came in ragged gasps as Eld and I stared across the wreckage of the canopy at each other. He raised his eyebrows and I shrugged and gave a weak laugh. The shattered canopy shifted and Eld drew his sword; then Joffers appeared, bloody dirk in one hand, broken pole in the other. He pulled his oilskin cloak back into place around him and blew his twin mustaches out, rainwater and blood flecking his lips.
“Killed your man?”
“Woman,” he said after a moment. He took a shuddering breath and nodded. “Aye.”
“That military service doesn’t leave your bones, does it?” I said.
Eld clapped the older man’s thin shoulder and whispered something in his ear that made Joffers’s face break for a moment before he regained his composure.
“I’ll get this canopy righted while you get us back into the center of the channel. I think you’ll want to use that pole,” I added, pointing at the one I’d dropped. “Yours has seen its final fare.”
Sin and I got to work. My limbs were trembling by the time I got the poles back in their sockets and the canvas halfway straightened out—probably as much as it could be righted, given the rents Eld and I had carved in it. By the time I slipped back inside, my hands were pruny.
“W-what was that?” Eld asked, teeth chattering, when he came in—I had heard him and Joffers drop the remaining body over the side. I offered him one of the blankets that was only half-damp and he shrugged it around his shoulders as he dropped into his seat.
“I’d say someone wanted us dead.”
Eld rolled his eyes.
“It could have to do with us keeping the Doga alive this morning,” I said after a moment. He nodded, wiping back a sodden, blond lock of hair. “Or—”
“How bad a knock did I take when the sugar factory went up in flames?” I asked.
“What’s that have to do with who tried to kill us today? The bank already paid out.”
“It’s just that . . . I’m just trying to figure out who wants us dead badly enough to send a dozen toughs after us in the middle of a wintry Servenzan canal.”
“Pages,” I said, and he laughed.
“Where were we going now?” Eld asked, shrugging off the blanket.
“Back to the palazzo,” I replied. The rain pounded on the canopy like a thousand nails dropped by a God. Is that you, Ciris?
“Before anything else happens today,” I added.
“Wise, that.” He nodded over his shoulders. “You scared Joffers, just now.”
“Why?” I frowned, looking across at him. “He was buried under the canvas with the first that jumped him the whole time. He didn’t see—” Didn’t see me put down half a dozen without half a thought. Didn’t see a little woman heft a pole it takes two men to get into the oar socket. Didn’t see my magic. But you did, didn’t you?
“I saw you,” he whispered as if hearing me.
“Do I scare you, Eld?” I asked him.
“I think it was your nonchalance more than the killing that unnerved him,” Eld said, ignoring the question.
“We faced a horde of undead this summer, Eld. What’s a few fools draped in seal fur compared to that?”
“Aye, I understand, but Joffers wasn’t there and doesn’t.”
“So long as he understands the coin we pay him, I care not,” I muttered. I ran a hand over my damp braid and squeezed a few drips of water out of my hair. “I don’t know if this”—I
gestured at the gaping hole in the canvas—“was due to the past summer, us saving the Doga this morning, or something else entirely.”
Eld’s lips moved but he didn’t say anything. His brow furrowed as if a thought had just struck him, but he was a bad poker player at the best of times and I could tell he’d been sitting on something.
“If we are being followed, it wouldn’t hurt to make their jobs harder for them, would it?”
“No, I suppose it wouldn’t,” I said, staring at the scrap of daylight just barely visible through the torn canvas.
“And it’d be even better if we were able to identify who is shadowing us, perhaps even have a discreet word with them?”
“You mean like just now?” I chuckled and punched him gently in the shoulder.
“Ow!” Eld rubbed his shoulder, glaring at me.
“I barely hit you,” I chided him. “Growing soft.”
“Why I said ‘discreet,’ ” he laughed.
“What I’m saying, Buc,” Eld said after a moment, shifting from rubbing his shoulder to fingering the tear in his jacket that could have been a blade through the ribs if it’d been just a little more to the right, “is that it might make sense for you to slip out of the gondola at the next intersection and catch a hansom cab while I take this around a few of the Quartos . . . you know, in case we’re still being followed?”
“Finding out who is keeping tabs on us at the street level isn’t a bad idea,” I admitted. “But I don’t know if you’ve heard”—I pointed at the sagging, soaked canvas—“it’s pouring like a motherfucking monsoon out there. I’m already wet, so I don’t really fancy climbing out at the moment.” I palmed a knife. “Besides, if you want to have a word with these folks, discreet or not, you’re going to want me there.”
“I can better defend myself than you, if it comes to an out-and-out fight,” Eld said.
“Did you see me with the oar? With Si—” I wanted the words back as soon as I said them, the image of me whipping a hunk of oak the length of a gondola around like it were a barrel stave—something even Eld would be hard-pressed to do and not something a thin woman who barely came to his chest should be capable of—bright in my mind.
“With me in you, we’re the most dangerous being in this city,” Sin said. He didn’t boast, merely stated fact.
Aye, but Eld didn’t need reminding of that. Avoiding that conversation was likely why he suggested splitting up despite the rain. Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to be away from the reality staring at me: that Eld and I were heading down separate paths. The silence achieved peak awkwardness.
“Buc—” Eld began.
I ducked back under the canvas opening and whatever he said was lost in the sounds of the storm breaking against the canal waters, hammering the stone sides of the canal where it narrowed at an intersection. Sheets of icy rain cascaded down. Joffers didn’t see me, or if he did, didn’t see me signal him to slow down. Luckily, with Sin I didn’t need him to. The magic was in my bones. I choked back something warm in my throat and leapt.
The rain was as cold as my soul.
Excerpted from The Justice in Revenge, copyright © 2021 by Ryan Van Loan.