Born of Legend Read online
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For my big brother, who taught me to read and was my first fan and who always believed in The League series. I miss you more every day, and I would have given anything if you could have seen just one of my books in print.
For every underdog who's been misunderstood and felt out of place, and who's been knocked down so hard the blows staggered them. Who had a dream, saw it crushed, got back up, and kept going anyway. As my brother always said, there's no guarantee in life, except that you will always fail whatever task you never undertake. And you're never defeated until you decide to quit.
To my boys and husband who are my life, and who have seen me through untold heartaches. For my readers, who are family, and to my friends for keeping me sane. Thank you all for being part of my life.
And as always, to Monique, Alex, Robert, John, Eric, Ervin, Mark, Nancy, Angie, Jen, and everyone at St. Martin's and Trident who work so incredibly hard on the books to make them a reality. And The MB Staff: Kim, Paco, Lisa, and Carl, and all the volunteers who keep things running smoothly! You guys are the best!
Hunger only for a taste of justice
'Cause all that you have is your soul
--Tracy Chapman, All That You Have Is Your Soul
AN ANCIENT ANDARION LEGEND
In all the worlds, in all the legends, and in all the myths, there is only one that can make the stoutest Andarion warrior tremble like a newborn child. Only one that breathes unholy terror into his intrepid heart.
For there is only one beast we know who is truly unstoppable.
The merciless Dagger Ixur.
Said to be among the oldest legends of our race, the Dagger Ixur was born to the goddess of evil magic, Samari, and pure unrestrained evil she was. With her sons Duffarrar (malevolence), Fain (violence), and Arixur (darkness), she cut a trail of brutal slaughter across the lands of Andaria, laying waste to all, and taking pity upon no one.
Yet for all her heartless cruelty she loved her sons dearly.
All of them.
And none more so than the winged god, Korilon, who was named for the turbulent fire he breathed. He, the darkest god of our pantheon, would hunt down the souls of the damned for his mother, and cast them into the barbarous pits of Tophet, where those who'd committed the worst acts of cowardice, and crimes against others would spend eternity in torment, forever denied the honor of reincarnation, or any comfort or solace from their suffering. Because of his pitiless brutality that could never be bargained with or daunted, Korilon was the one child Samari held closest to her heart.
Until the day came when Saint Sarn began civilizing the Andarion races--unifying the tribes and bringing peace to our warring lands. It is said that on the very hour of the First Plenum, when the mighty Dancer War Hauk gave up the throne of Andaria to the lesser Anatole so that his Hauk bloodline could reign as the first warrior clan, Samari's sons turned against their parents for allowing such a travesty to stand.
In their great warriors' eyes, it weakened our world to have a lesser bloodline rule our races and not a true warrior on the throne.
It weakened our Warrior pantheon.
In a vengeful fury, the war gods struck down their lesser, weak parents, and when Korilon's winged Warsword plunged deep into the womb of his mother, her heart burst apart, into a dozen blackened shards over his betrayal. With her final breath, she gave life to those fragments and cursed her four sons to die in brutal agony at the end of every day at the hands of those new children--to mark when her four traitorous spawn had ruthlessly struck her down.
The Dagger Ixur--they were created from those broken shards--the remnants of her shattered heart.
Her final vengeance on this world.
At the light of each dawn, Samari's four original sons arise, restored to attend their godly duties, but come the twilight shadows when Samari's dark breath again kisses the Andarion landscape, the Dagger Ixur emerge from their mother's kiss as unstoppable phantoms to seek their vengeance, first on the immortal Petguar who betrayed their goddess mother, and then on any child who has broken his mother's heart.
And so it goes, even now. Samari's vengeance continues and with the falling of every evening, the Dagger Ixur are released. As silent wraiths, they stalk the shadows in search of those who have made their mothers regret their births. Those who have brought shame to their lineages.
No one can escape their wrath or their justice.
For their fury is all-consuming and their aim is ever true. After all, Dagger Ixur is the Andarion term for a dark blade through the heart. And if there is a son who has made his mother weep for his birth, who has betrayed her love and returned it with hatred, they will destroy him and lay him in his grave. This is their sacred covenant with the goddess Samari. It is one they will never break.
All a mother has to do is invoke their name to seek their aid in punishing her misbegotten child.
That sacred pact is what every male with a drop of Andarion blood fears most about nightfall, and why even the stoutest heart casts a sheepish eye toward every shadowy corner. That fear alone is the one thing no other Andarion would dare mock him for. Because you never know when the Dagger Ixur will be coming next to claim your soul.
But the one thing you do know for sure.
When it comes for you, there is no escape. There is no quarter.
There is no hope.
There is only pain and death. And it waits with arms wide open to welcome you in should you ever turn a coward's side in battle, betray a friend, or shame your blood with your actions. For the gods see all.
They know all.
And the shadows of the Dagger Ixur own the night.
This looked like a damn good place to die. And at least it wasn't blistering hot.
Grimacing in pain, Dagger Ixur pressed his hand against the wound that was slowly killing him and stepped inside the dive hole where some of the worst vermin of the Nine Worlds had crawled to find refuge from the blistering binary suns of Steradore.
His breathing labored, he hid his agony behind a mask of steeled boredom and made his way to a back table where he sat down, making sure to keep his wound concealed. Like rabid animals, the creatures here would attack en masse should they suspect for even the hair of a nanosecond he was incapable of defending himself.
Especially given the massive bounty on his head.
Hell, if he had a brain, he'd turn himself in for that amount of cred. At least it would get him a good meal for the first time in four years.
But then, he couldn't spend it if he was dead.
"There's a thirty crona minimum to occupy this space. You got thirty cronas, slag?"
Dagger sneered at the smug purple-skinned humanoid waitress. She had no idea that she was talking to a former prince who'd once been heir to two of the largest fortunes in the universe.
But that was years ago.
Today, he was heir of shit and shit's second cousin. And if he wasn't on the brink of death, he wouldn't have thirty cronas