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Darken the Stars

By:Amy A. Bartol

PROLOGUE

Archive: The Order of the Tempest

Are you sure we’re in knob-knocking Amster, Jax?” Wayra Waters whispers as he stands watch by the door. It’s dark in the command center control room they’ve just broken into. He rubs a scrap of cloth over his throat, wiping the sweat from the black tribal tattoos that mark him as a Rafe soldier.

“We’re in the north corridor of the abandoned city.” Jax Roule’s deft fingers conduct the virtual keypad of the holographic screen with military precision. As he sifts through hundreds of holographic image files, a sliver of light falls on his violet eyes. “This place is a decaying skeleton with modern innovation wired into it.”

Wayra ignores the crumbling Gothic architecture. His focus is on his job as watch. “I bet you can’t even get venish here,” he mumbles. His lips twist with scorn. “How long will it take you to infiltrate their technology?”

“I’m in,” Jax replies. “How are we?”

“We’re clear. Their patrol is at midcycle. Did you locate Kricket?”

“No.”

Wayra’s fierce stare turns sharply to Jax. “Stop messing around. We have to find and extract her.”

Jax’s grim expression is half in shadow. “She’s not here—”

“It’s true then? That band of Alameeda half-breeds who raided us gave her to Kyon Ensin?”

Jax nods. “They traded her to him for her sister, Astrid Hollowell.”

“That’s messed up—I didn’t even know Kricket had a sister.”

“I don’t think Kricket knew either. You want to hear something worse? I think I just found her father.”

“You’re lying!” Wayra accuses, his nostrils flaring in anger.

“No, I’m not. It’s Pan Hollowell. He’s alive.”

“Where has he been all her life?”

“Here.”

“On Ethar?”

“In Amster.”

“What’s he been doing here?”

“It looks like he’s been building an army of rebels.” Jax searches some more. “I found something.” he hisses. Wayra takes another long look outside before joining Jax by the hologram projector.

“What is it?”

“It’s a training tape—it’s for these half-breed soldiers who run this city—they call themselves the Order of the Tempest.”

“What a bunch of nims!” Wayra scoffs and comes closer to the virtual image.

“Here, watch this hologram. It’s Pan in Amster before they rebuilt this fortress several floans ago. He’s explaining the Order of the Tempest—and Black Math!” Jax tugs the earpiece from his ear and hands it to Wayra, who puts it in his ear as Jax replays the message.

Pan Hollowell’s larger-than-life image walks on air in the holographic channel. Filmed amid the ancient ruins of the city of Amster, Pan looks every bit like a military officer in his black uniform.

“He’s one of us!” Wayra whispers. “He could’ve been in our unit!”

“He’s ex-Cavar, you can tell by his tat—he was a Rafe Triclone in the war before this one.” Jax points to the concentric triangle tattoos that cover the side of Pan’s throat.

“How old is this recording?” Wayra asks.

“Almost as old as Kricket. Shh! This is the part I want you to hear!” Jax says.

In the recording, Pan’s piercing eyes scan the devastation surrounding him. “Black Math had its origins here,” he says, “in the once-thriving metropolis of Amster. This plague destroyed most of Ethar a thousand floans ago.” He walks among the desolate shells of buildings. “Many people believe that it was a naturally occurring epidemic, begun by chance. They’re wrong. Black Math was inflicted on masses of Etharian citizens by a man named Excelsior Ensin, to seize power from established nations and to form the five Houses of Ethar: Rafe, Comantre, Peney, Wurthem, and Alameeda.

“For centuries, Excelsior Ensin has been creating an enhanced race of female Etharians known as the Priestesses of Alameeda. Through genetic manipulation, these females are all born with extrasensory gifts. These gifts range from telekinesis, to soothsaying, to mind control and more. My consort, Arissa Hollowell, inherited one such gift: the gift of prophecy.

“The Alameeda Brotherhood has made it illegal for males with the same abilities to exist. They hunt them because they fear them. It’s why we’ve formed our secret society here in the abandoned city of Amster. We will save them because they are the future of Ethar.

“This is the origin of the Order of the Tempest. Our mission is to protect the true priestess of the prophecy: the priestess, born of two worlds and two Houses. She will become our Empress of Ethar.”

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