READ TWO CHAPTERS: Beginning's End (The Empire Saga #3) by M. Dalto
Ever since her unexpected return to the Empire, all Alexstrayna wanted was to protect her family. Despite the life-altering events that occurred within the Borderlands, her family–those that remained–were all she had left. As Empress, it was her predestined duty to protect them while ensuring the safety of the Empire.
But when the ever-threatening forces from the Borderlands challenge the peace, she must search within herself to discover a new magic, one stronger than anything the Annals have foretold before.
For our chapter sneak this week we are doing something a bit different. We demur and give you a glimpse through a window into the world of this, the latest book in The Empire Saga. But to all those that have been following along on this riveting journey, we leave you in a bit of suspense after the events at the conclusion of book two, Mark of the Empress.
Read chapters nine and thirteen today, and be sure to pre-order your copy for release day—THIS TUESDAY!
Lexan was beginning to grow fond of liquor.
He had started to drink wine—perhaps a bottle—every night since the most recent events that had transpired between the Borderlands and the Empire.
However, between Razen’s boiling rage and Crystal’s pregnant mania, he was beginning to discover wine was no longer strong enough to get him through the nights.
He debated this as he sat at dinner one night with his Councillor and wife, the two deep in conversation about their next move against the Empire while Lexan, per usual, waited on the outskirts until something was needed from him. Which was rarely.
He was quickly finding he was content with that as well.
Which was also why he refrained from telling either of them that he had contacted his sister just the night before.
Speaking to Sarayna through their dreams had never been difficult. Their connection as twins practically made them predisposed to it, so no true training had been needed.
The first time he did it, he lured her to the Borderlands in hopes of joining their sides for the greater good. Razen, however had other, less savory plans for Sarayna. Lexan’s stomach still clenched at the thought of what he almost did to her before his mother so ruthlessly knocked him unconscious with a wine bottle.
Which was why his most recent dream was so important.
He knew she had found her Emperor, and she needed to know that returning with him to the Empire would be the worst thing to do if she wanted to keep him safe.
Lexan glanced up from his liquor glass to watch where Razen sat on his left—the former Councillor to the Empire, and his great-uncle. The uncle his father never knew he had until it was unfavorably revealed that one night...
He no longer wore the sage-colored robes of the Councillor, but instead his shirt was cut tight, unbuttoned low enough to reveal his chest, tucked into leather riding pants and boots as if he was ready to set off on a steed and rescue a damsel at any moment. If Lexan didn’t know any better, he would have sworn it was unbuttoned even lower whenever Crystal was around.
His gaze quickly shifted towards his wife, beautiful and pregnant with the Heir to the Borderlands. It made her act both arrogant and self-important—qualities she didn’t have when he first met her. She had become everything Lexan thought he once was. He also noticed that the neckline of her dresses tended to get lower in Razen’s presence.
Together, the two plotted and planned the end of the Empire, which now seemed like no more than a conquest done out of spite and revenge.
To Lexan, however, it was the destruction of his mother’s home.
In turn, the father who had left him for her.
He didn’t blame Reylor for choosing Alexstrayna’s side. It was common knowledge how he felt towards the Empire’s Empress. Lexan himself would not be alive were it not for his father’s choices, however unethical.
Returning his eyes to the glass in his hand, he gulped the hard liquor in one swallow.
No, he did not fault his father one bit, but he would not be able to stop the forces against them either, especially when Lexan was to play such an integral part.
He must have let out a sigh, for the conversation around him paused. As Lexan returned his eyes to the table before him, both Razen and Crystal were practically staring at him.
“It something troubling you, my Prince?” Razen asked.
Lexan’s eyes met those of his Councillor, and for once he felt something boil inside him—not the nonchalant carelessness he noticed as of late, but almost an unhinged rage.
“I’m fine,” he said shortly, and Lexan noticed Crystal’s eyes roll before she returned to her food.
He had to wonder when it was he lost her. Was it before he brought her to the Empire?
No, he distinctly remembered that their relationship then as extremely fulfilling, albeit purely physical, but every sign she had given him was that she wanted him as much as he needed her.
Perhaps it was when she signed her name to the Annals. At the time, he would have threatened her to do so if she had refused—her agreement to become his Empress was paramount to proceeding with their plans, but there was no need. It was as though the moment she was given the opportunity for power and control, she grabbed onto it, holding tight and never letting go.
If he had known, he wasn’t certain he would have been so quick to take her to bed that night.
A blessing and a curse, the Annals and their Prophecy.
Her resentment towards his mother, however, was completely unexpected.
From his understanding, Crystal and his mother had been best of friends within the Otherrealm for years before Treyan even arrived. That something like the Prophecy could come between them...
Lexan stood from his chair when he had finished eating, with nothing more than a glance to Razen before taking his leave from the dining room. Crystal, surprisingly, excused herself and followed him in silence until they were on the stairs that led towards their room located in one of the castle's towers.
“You were quiet tonight,” she commented as she walked beside him, a swirl of skirts bunched in her hands as they climbed the stairs to their room.
“I have a lot on my mind,” Lexan informed her with a casual shrug. Which was not a lie. There was a lot on his mind lately—the Empire, his sister, his mother, his father...but none of these, save any invasion involving the destruction of the Empire, were to be vocalized to his wife.
“It seems you always have a lot on your mind lately.” Her tone was anything but accusatory.
“That tends to happen when there’s a war to plan. I’m sure you understand,” he responded flatly.
“Not if you’re thinking about sleeping with your sister again,” his Empress countered as they reached the top of the stairs, turning to face him from the step above where he stood.
Lexan stopped, his hands clenching at his side—he was not in the mood today. Their nights always seemed to end the same since the confrontation within the Empire. They would return to their room after dinner, Crystal would remind him of the indecent act he almost committed for the good of the Prophecy, or so he thought, and he would in turn leave her to her own devices while he drank the night away in his study at the top of the tower.
“I don’t know how many times I have to remind you—” Lexan began through clenched teeth.
“Desperate times, desperate measures. I’ve heard it all before.” She cut him off with a flip of her hand, and Lexan felt his blood return to boiling as he closed the distance between them, taking that last step up to the landing, standing now a mere inch from her.
His pregnant wife she may be, but he was growing very, very tired of her.
“You’d do well to watch yourself, Empress,” he snarled with a fury he hadn’t felt since the day his father left. “For you know not what you say—or do—and I’d hate to blame it on your condition.”
“One of these days, Prince, you’re going to have to make a choice.”
“I have made my choice. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“But is it willingly?” Crystal smirked. “You don’t think I know why you drown your sorrows every night? You actually miss them.”
Lexan stayed quiet, motionless where he stood.
Crystal glared at him, and he could tell there was a fire burning in her eyes. “Your sister is a bitch and your mother is a whore. They left you, just as they did before, just as they will do again. Don't even get me started on your father—”
Lexan raised a hand to her without thinking, and she at least had the decency to flinch as if he would truly strike her. He wanted to—he would be lying if he said otherwise, but he wouldn’t. She was still his wife, his Empress, and the mother of his child—his heir. Even if she was manipulative, condescending, and most likely sleeping with Razen.
“Let’s get one thing straight,” he whispered as he lowered his hand and held her gaze.
“We have but one purpose for the time being—defend our lands, at whatever cost, to ensure the Empire does not return to its full power. When the time comes to act, I will act. In the meantime, it is not for you to even guess how I feel, or what I’m thinking. In fact—” Lexan’s eyes glanced over her in one swift motion, “it would be beneficial for you to remain in your quarters, away from the harsh realities of war.”
“You can’t lock me up,” she snapped, as though regaining her composure.
“I am the prince, Crystal. I can do whatever I want, especially for the greater good of the Borderlands and its unborn heir.”
The glare she gave him should have made him reconsider his position, but instead he stepped around her with his threat hanging in the air.
“You’re just like your father,” she hissed as he walked past her.
Lexan stopped, but instead of taking it as the insult she meant, he turned on his heel and gave her a dramatic bow.
“I thank you for the compliment and will be sure to tell him that the next time I see him.”
She called out after him, cursing his name from one god to another, but he continued without another acknowledgment of her existence. He slammed the door to his study at the top of the tower—a sanctuary that was far more appealing than the woman he chose to make his wife.
It was at that point Lexan realized, as he poured himself another glass of liquor before sitting before the open window that looked beyond the Borderlands, that once his heir was born, there would be no more use for Queen Empress Crystallia.
Lexan heard Razen’s footsteps upon the stairs well before he entered the room. The prince remained where he sat, staring out the window of his study with his tumbler of liquor in his hand.
The land below was as desolate as ever, despite the growing armies they had tried to gather at Razen’s command. A constant fog seemed to cover the entirety of the Borderlands, making the tree line that separated the Borderlands from the Empire near-impossible to see from where he sat. Despite his misgivings, however, this had become his favorite view from the castle. He lounged in his chair, a leg casually thrown over one arm, and refused to acknowledge the Councillor as he waited in the doorway.
“Princess Sarayna has returned to the Empire,” Razen announced by way of greeting. His tone was level, and Lexan knew he was there out of duty and obligation more than any actual desire. Whatever Razen thought of him—if anything at all—Lexan was still the Prince of the Borderlands, and it was through him this twisted Prophecy would come to fruition.
“I am well aware,” was all Lexan said, and swallowed the rest of his drink in one gulp. For he had known the moment she stepped through the Key.
He had warned her what would happen if she returned with her Emperor.
She chose not to listen, and now there would be consequences.
“We prepare to move tomorrow,” Razen pressed.
“I’m sure you and the Empress have everything under control.” Lexan refused to look at him, now glaring into the distance as if he could see the Empire’s palace from where he sat, could look through a window and view his sister. He hoped she was well, and that her Emperor treated her better than he could say of his Empress.
“Empress Crystallia is extremely invested in what’s best for the Borderlands, my prince. We all are...”
“About as much as she’s invested between the sheets with you, I’m sure.”
Razen didn’t even have the decency to deny it. “I assure you, my prince, no harm can or will come to the Empress.”
“Of course it can’t—she’s already pregnant.” Lexan’s shoulders tensed. He wasn’t jealous of them—he had realized that some time ago, after he refused to share a bed with her any longer.
A part of him still loved Crystal—the part of her that he was able to woo within the Otherrealm, the part that wanted to be the mother of his child. It was the other parts of her—the parts that reminded him too much of what his father had done to his mother, or what Razen had manipulated him into doing—that he despised as he saw those same characteristics reflected in his wife.
No, he was not jealous, for he would be more than willing to let go of the parts of her that would invite someone like Razen into their bed.
Razen, the same man who had murdered his grandfather, banished his father, killed his uncle, threatened his sister, and terrified his mother.
“Is there a problem, my prince?”
“Not at all, Razen.”
Lexan could almost feel the smugness in his silent response, and as he finally stood from his chair, he threw his glass at the wall, mere inches from Razen’s head.
Razen barely flinched, and Lexan’s anger grew.
“When does it end? First my grandmother, and now my wife. Why not add my mother to your list? Or is that what you have in mind for my sister?”
“In regard to Saratanya, there is more than you realize, so I suggest you not speak of her again. As for your wife, it was her idea, not mine. I tried with your mother, but she refused my advances, and someone must pick up where you failed with Sarayna.”
The smile that formed on the Councillor’s face was the epitome of all Lexan despised of this damn Prophecy.
“Get out,” he finally ordered, pointing to the door.
Razen merely shrugged. “You will learn, my prince, that in time, who shares my bed is the least of your concerns. We are all pawns in the Prophecy’s greater game, and nothing says I am not allowed to enjoy myself while it plays out.”
“Get out,” he repeated through his teeth, his jaw clenched.
With no more than a curt nod, Razen turned on his heel. “We advance in the morning,” he reminded Lexan. “I expect you to be sober when we greet your family.”
Lexan slammed the door to his study without another word.
The light from the orb created an eerie green glow within Lexan’s study during the early hours of the morning.
“The suspicions are confirmed, then?” he asked into the ethereal globe.
“Yes, my Prince. The princess arrived last evening.”
“She was not alone, I am assuming?”
“No, she did, in fact, bring back her Emperor.”
“Was she welcomed with open arms?”
“It is hard to decipher. There will be a Council meeting this morning where the princess and her emperor are debriefed. Your mother and father have been quite scarce as of late...”
“Have they killed each other yet?”
“On the contrary, my prince.”
“...we’ll discuss that later. The Borderlands will begin their advance today, remaining at the tree line until the first signs of dusk. Will the Empire’s sentinel guards be removed?”
“There has been an assignment on the outskirts of the Empire that will take most of their attention away from your entry point. The Mistress’ cabin sits empty and untouched.”
“Make sure it stays that way. The Empress and the Councillor will stay within the castle. I will ride alone while the troops wait at the line. Without knowledge of their approach, any additional guard post should not even notice their presence. How goes the situation at the palace?”
“Preparations from within have been slow as well, my prince. I have convinced one other member that we should take our time and better prepare our approach, but it is the Captain who insists we press on, even without the resources we need. There is a division within the Empire, and the lords are cautious to lend more support, I have heard.”
“What is the cause of this division?” Lexan felt he already knew the answer, but wanted it confirmed.
“Your father’s presence has many on edge, and the lords are hesitant to allow their soldiers into his control.”
“Is there nothing my mother can do to assuage their concerns?”
“Most see her as a mournful woman without her wits about her since the death of Prince Treyan.”
That anyone would think his mother so weak sent a surge of anger along his spine. “Keep the Council divided—I would prefer as little bloodshed as possible, but there is no denying this advance any longer, especially with Sarayna’s arrival. I want a full report this evening after their meeting, and I especially need to know more about this Emperor.”
“Of course, my prince.”
The green orb disappeared just as the suns' light began to brighten the hazy gloom of the Borderlands.