The Drowning City - By Amanda Downum

This was no accident.

Isyllt wrapped a concealment around her, and a ward against the flames, and crossed the street.

Her ring blazed as she entered the shop, pushing back the crackling heat—no survivors inside. Flames consumed the doors and wall hangings, rushed over the ceiling to devour the rafters. Lamps melted on shelves, brass and silver charring wood as they dripped to the floor. Witchlight flickered around her in an opalescent web, holding guttering flames at bay. But it wouldn’t keep the ceiling from crushing her when it came down.

The smell of charred flesh and hot metal seared her nose, and something else. The air was heavy with intent, with sacrifice. The magic that turned the shop into an inferno had been dearly paid for.

A spell so powerful must have left a trace. She nearly stepped in a puddle of brown-burnt blood, nudged a body aside with her toe. The man’s eyes melted down his charred cheeks and Isyllt frowned; intact, he might have shared his dying vision with her. Not that she had time to scry the dead.

BY AMANDA DOWNUM

The Necromancer Chronicles

The Drowning City

For New Orleans

Drowning is not so pitiful

As the attempt to rise.

—Emily Dickinson

Hope lies in the smoldering rubble of empires.

—Rage Against the Machine

(“Calm Like a Bomb”)

Part I

Waiting for the Rain

1229 Sal Emperaturi

CHAPTER 1

Symir. The Drowning City.

An exile, perhaps, but at least it was an interesting one.

Isyllt’s gloved hands tightened on the railing as the Black Mariah cleared the last of the Dragon Stones and turned toward the docks, dark estuarine water slopping against her hull. Fishing boats dotted Ka Liang Bay, glass buoys flashing in the sun. Cormorants dove around them, scattering ripples as they snatched fish from hooks and nets.

The west wind died, broken on the Dragons’ sharp peaks, and the jungle’s hot breath wafted from the shore. Rank with brine and bilge, sewers draining into the sea, but under the port-reek the air smelled of spices and the green tang of Sivahra’s forests rising beyond the marshy delta of the Mir. Mountains flanked the capital city Symir, uneven green sentinels on either side of the river. So unlike the harsh and rocky shores of Selafai they had left behind two and a half decads ago.

Only twenty-five days at sea—a short voyage, though it didn’t feel that way to Isyllt. The ship had made good time, laden only with olive oil and wheat flour from the north.

And northern spies. But those weren’t recorded on the cargo manifest.

Isyllt shook her head, collected herself. This might be an exile, but it was a working one. She had a revolution to foment, a country to throw into chaos, and an emperor to undermine with it. Sivahra’s jungles and mines—and Symir’s bustling port—provided great wealth to the Assari Empire. Enough to fund a war of conquest, and the eyes of the expansionist Emperor roved slowly north. Isyllt and her master meant to prevent that.

If their intelligence was good, Sivahra was crawling with insurgent groups, natives desperate to overthrow their Imperial conquerors. Selafai’s backing might help them succeed. Or at least distract the Empire. Trade one war for another. After that, maybe she could have a real vacation.

The Mariah dropped anchor before they docked and the crew bustled to prepare for the port authority’s inspection; already a skiff rowed to meet them. The clang of harbor bells carried across the water.

Adam, her coconspirator and ostensible bodyguard, leaned against the rail beside her while his partner finished checking over their bags. Isyllt’s bags, mostly; the mercenaries traveled light, but she had a pretense of pampered nobility to maintain. Maybe not such a pretense—she might have murdered for a hot bath and proper bed. Sweat stuck her shirt to her arms and back, itched behind her knees. She envied the sailors their vests and short trousers, but her skin was too pale to offer to the summer sun.

“Do we go straight to the Kurun Tam tonight?” Adam asked. The westering sun flashed on gold and silver earrings, mercenary gaud. He wore his sword again for the first time since they’d boarded the Mariah. He’d taken to sailor fashions—his vest hung open over his scarred chest, revealing charm bags around his neck and the pistol tucked into his belt. His skin was three shades darker than it had been when they sailed, bronze now instead of olive.

Isyllt’s mouth twisted. “No,” she said after a moment. “Let’s find an extravagantly expensive hotel tonight. I feel like spending the Crown’s money. We can work tomorrow.” One night of

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