Blessed be the Wicked (Dark Maji #2) - Kel Carpenter

Lucy: Never…

Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but refuse. They cling to the realm, or love, or the gods . . . illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is. But they’ll never know this. Not until it’s too late.

~ Littlefinger, Game of Thrones, Season 3, Episode 6

The Pirate Queen

“All queens are pirates in their own time.”

— Quinn Darkova, vassal of House Fierté, fear twister

Gold. It glittered at every turn. Quinn wasn’t sure what to expect in the infamous city of Tritol, but true to the Pirate Queen’s name, it was a city of fortune.

Burnished domes of yellow and bronze lit up like beacons under the swelter of Leviticus’ eye. A hazy film obscured Quinn’s vision as she squinted through the sand being swept around as they were urged through the gates of the main plaza. Textiles in every color hung from windows and doorways as shopkeepers opened for the day.

She’d heard the rumors that Imogen liked her people to display affluence and looked favorably upon it. If the overly friendly merchants were anything to go by, Quinn was inclined to believe those rumors as they offered gifts and trinkets to the girl who went before them, urging her horse by its reins.

“For the Queen!” they proclaimed, holding out their best fabrics and golden treasures. Axe simply shook her head and held up a hand, brushing them off with ease as she rode down the sandy streets as if she owned them. If she truly was Imogen’s adoptive daughter—one day she might.

“You know,” Quinn started, glancing over at Lazarus, “you could really learn a thing or two here.” She gestured to a vendor, and they jumped forward, offering up a necklace made of several ropes of gold. The man bowed his head, lifting it up, and just as Quinn leaned over to accept it, Lazarus cast her a disapproving glance.

“It’s not for you,” he said.

Quinn narrowed her eyes but took her hand back without the necklace and didn’t say anything more as they moved farther into the city.

The heat bore down on them. The open air growing more humid the longer they walked. Quinn glanced from side to side and then focused straight ahead, keeping her eyes on the strange girl that led them.

Axe continued to ignore the offerings of the citizens of Tritol as she led their party toward the tallest building in the city. It jutted out from the rest of the capital. The sharp edge of its tip glimmering under the sunlight. More gold, Quinn affirmed.

She whistled beneath her breath as they arrived at the gates of the building—tall arches were encrusted with jewels in sapphire blue and royal purple. Sea creatures of myth and legend had been carved into the stone itself. Mermaids. Krakens. Creatures from the deep blue that had been rumored to be the goddess Myori in years past.

Only sunken ships and sailors at the bottom of the ocean could really say.

“No wonder we curse her wrath,” Quinn murmured. Lazarus shot her another look. One that she ignored.

The gates lifted when Axe raised her hand to the men at the top. Just inside, they all came to a halt in the center of a blooming courtyard. Towering trees dangled wisteria over the area; vines crept up the stone walls.

“Alright,” Axe announced. “She’s expectin’ us.”

Quinn handed the reins to an approaching stable boy, then turned and followed the others. She took an appreciative glance of the glittering gold-encrusted moldings on the walls as they entered the building. The floor was made of wide pearl bricks and cream mortar that was stained reddish-brown in sections. Blood, she surmised, having seen the signs before in another country. Another time.

Axe bounded up a set of stairs leading to a chamber littered with pillows of the highest quality. An older woman with olive skin and harsh features lounged on top of a golden claw-foot chair. Her dark hair, streaked with gray, was braided tightly, outlining the sharp bones of her face. A lone scar curved down her cheek, running parallel to her jawline. A billowing white shirt slid from one shoulder to reveal strange black markings on her skin. Symbols of pirates. She must be their queen.

“Madara, I’m home!” Axe announced cheerfully as she rushed to greet the woman.

The woman’s eyes opened slowly, and she turned her head toward