The Warlord (Rise of the Warlords #1) - Gena Showalter

PROLOGUE

Excerpted from The Book of Stars

Author unknown

They are ancient warriors, evil to the core and loyal only to one another. Known as the Astra Planeta, Wandering Stars, the Warlords of the Skies—the beginning of the end—they travel from world to world, wiping out enemy armies in a single battle. Drawn to war, they finish even the smallest skirmish with pain and bloodshed.

To see these warriors is to know you’ll soon greet your death.

With no moral compass, they kill without mercy, steal without qualm and destroy without guilt, all to receive a mystical blessing: five hundred years of victories without ever suffering a loss.

If they fail to obtain this blessing, they automatically receive the curse: five hundred years of utter defeat.

The time has come for the next bestowing, each Astra Planeta forced to complete a different task. To start, their leader, Commander Alaroc “Roc” Phaethon, Emperor of the Expanse, Rock of the Ages, Giant of the Deep, the Blazing One, must wed an immortal female of his choosing. Thirty days after the vows are spoken, he is to sacrifice this bride on an altar of his own making. If she dies a virgin, even better. He and his men receive a second blessing. If not...his greatest enemy receives it.

The Commander has never wavered in his duty. He cannot. If one Astra fails to complete his task, all fail.

Little wonder Roc will cross any line to succeed.

There has never been a woman alluring enough to tempt him from his path. No warrioress powerful enough to overcome his incredible strength. No enchantress desirable enough to make him burn beyond reason.

Until her.

1

Harpina, realm of the harpies

2248 AG (After General)

The night of her ninth birthday, Taliyah Skyhawk stalked through the royal Harpinian gardens amid a chorus of buzzing locusts and chirping birds. She approached a blazing firepit where multicolored flames crackled. Three moons painted surrounding thickets with an eerie, cerulean glow, the scent of skullflowers and smoke hanging heavy in the air, saturating her every inhalation.

Her mother, Tabitha the Vicious, stood shoulder to shoulder with her aunt Tamera the Widow-maker and her fifteen-year-old cousin Blythe the Undoing—Taliyah’s idol. The armed trio created a wall of strength.

“A death squad? Just what I wanted,” she quipped, but no one smiled.

Rather, her mother readjusted her pose to better show off a sword made of fireiron. A material used to battle fae and other elemental species. “Kneel,” she ordered, her small fangs bright in the firelight.

Excuse me? Taliyah’s gaze darted from one family member to the other. What was going on? Earlier, when Blythe requested a midnight meeting, Taliyah had expected a surprise party. Maybe a few games. Pin the dagger inside the enemy had always been a favorite.

“Kneel,” Aunt Tamera echoed. She wielded a demonglass dagger, the best tool against angels and Sent Ones. Those who came from the heavens.

Blythe gave a firm nod of encouragement. “Kneel.” She clutched a stake carved from cursedwood, the best defense against demons, witches, vampires and even harpies.

Screw this. Taliyah narrowed her eyes. “I’ll kneel for my General because I respect the position, but only my General.”

“Good answer.” Her mother smiled...and promptly swept Taliyah off her feet with a brutal kick.

She crashed into a too-cold ground that never lost its chill, no matter the season, air abandoning her lungs. Without pause, she scrambled up.

Her aunt’s gut punch sent her tumbling down once again. Stars winked through her vision, but still Taliyah scrambled up. No time to gloat. Blythe darted behind her and dipped low, slicing the tendons in her ankles.

Pain flared as she hit her knees, breathing more difficult. Still she attempted to clamber up.

Never accept a picture of defeat.

She had to pick her poison. The pain of persevering or the agony of regretting. She chose perseverance, every time.

Striving, struggling. Her lower body refused to cooperate, keeping her in a subservient position. Taliyah remained determined. You only lost when you quit.

Panting, fighting harder, she glared up at women who should rejoice that she loved and trusted them. “Someone better tell me what’s going on before I rage.”

Her mother’s eyes glittered in the darkness. “The time has come, daughter. In twelve months, you will leave your family to begin your combat training, just like the harpies before you. Unlike the others, you must train as you are meant to be, not as you are.”

Wait. “This is some kind of ritual for status or something? Well, why didn’t you say so?” The tension drained from her. Until she replayed some of her mother’s words. “How