Sovereign: Sneak Peek

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The leaden sky, packed with thunder clouds on the verge of bursting open into a downpour, formed an appropriate background to an execution.

The whole city had gathered on Sapphire Square that morning, people huddling together to stay warm while the rain soaked their clothes. Summer had entered the country in the shape of endless showers and chilly gusts of wind that made you feel as if you stood naked on top of a mountain. Unbothered by the cold in my new, black cloak, I followed the dark, winged figure that circled above the square and gave a hollow roar every now and then. Citizens ducked away from the creature when it passed over their heads, peeking at it with wide, frightened eyes under their hoods.

My magic warmed my toes as I walked to the platform that had been installed at the center of the square, so that everyone would have a good view of the spectacle that was about to take place. A tall, incredibly handsome man with amber eyes was already waiting for me, extending his hand to help me up the wooden boards. He squeezed my hand before letting go, and I made no effort to hide the smile that flickered across my face at the gesture.

The ten members of the High Council formed a line behind us, staring at the citizens in front of them with the same stoic expressions on their faces. One of them, Commander Ryden, gave a short nod at the handsome man—Cain. They are ready, it meant. Cain nodded back and turned to his audience, who shuffled restlessly with their feet under his compelling gaze.

That's right, be afraid, I thought, squinting at a few brave individuals who dared to meet my eyes. If life were a large game of chess, you would be the pawns that are sacrificed first so that the bigger pieces can be moved around.

Cain lifted his chin, everything about him radiating power and pride while his eyes roamed the masses. "Welcome," he said, his deep voice booming across the square. "Today is an important day, a day on which justice will prevail. As you all know, a mob tried to bring down the Onyx Tower in an explosion during the Blue Fire's Fair three weeks ago. This brutal, merciless attack was organized by a small gang of fellow citizens calling themselves a rebellion." He sighed, shaking his head because of the absurdity of that term. "These so-called rebels were willing to sacrifice you—friends, colleagues, neighbors—for their cause. They wanted to obtain freedom by killing innocents."

A nervous ripple ran through the crowd, although not every face expressed agreement with Cain's indignation. Some looked downright angry, and I imprinted their faces on my memory to keep an eye on them at future events. Scanning the square for familiar faces, I spotted not one member of Taylor Ford's rebellion, yet I was certain that they were watching, helpless and desperate. The thought aroused my already good humor.

"However," Cain proceeded, his face lighting up with new hope, "we managed to arrest a dozen rebels directly after the attack, including their leader Taylor Ford." A few citizens gasped at the mention of Ford's name. "Ford has been in the service of the Tower of Forgotten Souls for more than a decade and has provoked several incidents over the years, such as causing uproars among the servants. Because of that, it hardly came as a surprise to me that he succeeded in establishing an underground movement which rejects the rule of the Onyx Tower. But today, that movement comes to its end. The rebels who have already been taken into custody will be executed in a few moments, and those who are still in hiding will be tracked down to ensure that they don't escape their punishment. Commander Ryden." Cain turned to the commander, who straightened up. "Bring the prisoners forward."

The commander nodded and strode away from the platform, in the direction of the Tower. Closing my eyes, I breathed in the growing tension in the air. The Dragon floating above our heads roared again, and the sound would have been intimidating if it hadn't been so high-pitched due to the creature's relative young age. Its—or his, since it was a male—horns were deeply tucked away under his skin and his wings were still far from what their eventual span would be. Nevertheless, my heart swelled with maternal pride at the sight of the Dragon, a pride I didn't wholly understand. He was a constant reminder of my past, and even though I had tried to erase that past as well as I could, the Dragon had stayed. Maybe it was the prospect of riding him that inspired my loyalty.

Jaeger. A name given to the Dragon by a silly Dwarf, of all people. Yet, it was a fitting name nonetheless, especially in light of my plans for the mighty creature.

The crowd's agitated whispers grew louder when the doors of the Tower of the Honored opened and a dismal procession of twelve starved prisoners and an equal number of grumpy guards appeared in the doorway. Commander Ryden walked up front, leading the convicted rebels to the platform, where they would lay their eyes on the world one last time before their lives ended. Some of them threw pleading glances at me, but I kept my face expressionless and my eyes cold. It wasn't an act; their deaths would be a mere grain of sand on the long path of time.

The rebels were lined up on the platform and forced to kneel in front of Cain, who looked down at them with a mixture of distaste and indifference. I recognized Taylor Ford in the middle, surrounded by his followers like a true messiah. Misery disfigured his once so arrogant, aristocratic features; his cheeks were hollow and his thin skin clung to his bones like it had been painted on his skull. His sunken, gray eyes, which still hadn't lost their fierce glimmer, burned with hatred as they stared up at Cain.

"You and your city will burn before this year is over," Ford hissed, his voice hoarse yet sharp. "You can slaughter the lot of us, but that won't extinguish the spark of resistance that is already very much present within this city. There are others like us out there, people who are just waiting for the right moment to continue our work."

Cain laughed, scorning Ford's ridiculous statement. "If that's true, then my friends and I will crush them too." His eyes flicked to me, and I smiled in response. Ford, who didn't seem to have noticed me before, now turned his attention to me and disappointment flashed across his face for just a second. Pressing his lips together, he looked back and forth between Cain and me, silent but not submissive.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Cain looking at me, but I kept my gaze trained on Ford. "You knew it would end this way," I said to him, tilting my head as I studied his reaction. "You should have known better than to trust me."

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