Bloodsworn (Ashlords #2) - Scott Reintgen



No stars winked over my birth. No crown was set on my head. I was born into a world of possible gods. My name whispers through the caverns of time because I whispered it first.

—The Dread,

Cautions and Concerns

A single flame shines in the ghostly fog like a jewel.

I stand there, neck craned, waiting for Bastian to complain about the plan. Wind howls over a sprawl of dunes. The dark sea reaches for us with iron fingers and sand hisses against exposed ankles. I knew the cliffs would be high, but it’s actually nauseating to stand in their shadow and dream of scaling them.

Locklin Tower—a supposedly impenetrable Ashlord fortress—hides in the clouds. Only the weathered map in Bastian’s back pocket and the glinting flame above us confirm that the castle is actually there. After a long second, Bastian turns back to face me and the rest of the crew.

“You’re sure this will work?”

I can hear the way he pitches his voice. Loud enough that the wind will carry his question back to the others. He knows the plan is sound. He just wants them to hear the promise in my voice. Their crew saved me after I escaped the Races—they rode out to my rescue when Martial whispered my plan to the mountain rebels. They are also the crew who gave me my first taste of blood and war at the Battle of Gig’s Wall. After riding with them for a month, most of the riders are still learning to trust me, but Bastian knows my words carry a different kind of currency. He’s their leader. I am their expert, especially in alchemy.

“It’ll be the smoothest ride we’ve had in weeks.”

A few laughs at that. Bastian nods once. “Show them.”

The crew circles to stand in front of their ashes. Only twelve volunteered for our task. More than expected, honestly. Bastian didn’t spare the cowards on the other crew. I almost smile, imagining them piled in the cargo hold of our stolen carriage, wedged against each other and cursing under their breath. While they approach the castle as luggage, our group will ride in more glorious fashion. I glance around the circle, unsurprised to find my favorites of Bastian’s crew.

“So this one’s called Changing Skies….”

And it’s like I’m back on the ranch with Farian, shooting our next video. Walking out to Martial’s barn early on a holy day to make one of our films and hope enough people will watch to pay the bills. That’s how I got looped into the Races in the first place. It all feels like it happened to someone else, in some other lifetime.

It takes less than fifteen clockturns to get the group’s powders properly settled. Every gust of wind complicates the task. It whips cloaks into faces, snatches powders from palms. Only when the group is finished do I circle, triple-checking their work. The last thing I need is someone dying today because they mixed the wrong ratios into their ashes.

Everything checks out.

Now we wait for the sun to rise.

The Rowe siblings—Harlow and Cora—adjust their belts and weapons, their motions a perfect mirror of one another. Layne tightens her hood and comments on what fine weather we’re having. The girl is shaped like a knife and twice as sharp as one. Our eldest member—a man named Briar—laughs at Layne and says it’s nothing compared to mountain cold. I thought he was a little boring until someone told me he was a member of the original Running Rabbits. Any man who marched with Gold Man Jones is a legend in his own right. My cousin Luca is with us, too. He hums some mountain song I’ve never heard. Bastian picks up the notes, tapping a rhythm with the fingers of his metallic arm. I know it’s the more dangerous of the two limbs. When I first met him, he was winning a duel with an Ashlord sentry. His prosthetic arm is a deadly weapon, even if right now he’s using it more as a glorified musical instrument.

I smile at their talk and pretend I’m one of them.

It hasn’t been easy to carve a place in this family. Especially when half of my heart is somewhere else. I miss the way my mother clucked her tongue when I came home too late. The way my father’s chair groaned like a ghost in the kitchen whenever he sat down to read the morning paper. Prosper’s constant smile and Farian’s pursuit of the world. I spent so