Hidden Valor: First Snippet

Hidden Valor is coming next week!  Here’s the first snippet:

Chapter 1: The Heights I’ve Reached

Prince Ladon kept me standing as he read over the report I’d written up on Princess Kiyu and Jonna Hayden’s activities.  He had a bit of a sneer on his face.  “This is all?” He looked up finally.  “Conversations about classes?  I expected more from you Vars, much more.”

“We’ve been on break the past month, Your Highness,” I told him as calmly as I could manage.  What did the idiot expect, that the two of them would be discussing how to overthrow the Empire?  Even if I had really been his loyal spy, it would have beggared belief that I’d have something incriminating after only a few weeks of working for him.

Of course, I wasn’t his spy.  I wasn’t even Vars, the son of the late pirate marauder Wessek.  My name was William Alexander Armstrong.  I wasn’t even from Drakkus, I’d grown up on the dry, dusty world of Century and the real Vars had kidnapped me and kept me as his prisoner and slave.  I’d escaped and taken my revenge on Vars and Wessek, but in order to survive here on Drakkus, I’d stolen Vars’ identity and taken his place here at the Drakkus Imperial Military Institute.  Prince Ladon, though, thought I was Vars, and furthermore, I had convinced him that I would be his agent and spy on my only two real allies and in exchange, he hadn’t had the three of us murdered.

“All the more reason you should have had more for me,” Ladon’s lips drew back and he threw his datapad down on his desk.  “Classes are about to start up once more.  Once they do, neither of us will have time to meet frequently.  I’m giving you one week, to the official start of classes and I want to see something more interesting than…” he shook his head, “tactical preferences.  Do you understand me, Vars?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” I told him.

“You had better, Vars.  I’m taking a risk taking you on as your sponsor.  My father is still quite cross with you for what happened at Century.  It was quite embarrassing, him having to withdraw like that,” He shook his head, “And before you think I’m stuck with you, you should be aware that I still haven’t told him or anyone, really.  All I did was stop the boot pressed against your neck.”

Prince Ladon’s father, Crown Prince Abrasax, had been the patron for Wessek.  The two of them had some kind of plan to take over my homeworld, but it hadn’t gone well, thanks to my sister and my grandmother.  Crown Prince Abrasax had shown up with a huge fleet, but my grandmother, the Admiral, had found out about the arrival thanks to my sister, Jiden.  From what I’d heard, the Crown Prince had been forced to power down his weapons and withdraw.

It was the first time in decades that anyone had forced the Drakkus Empire to do anything.  That kind of black eye hadn’t sat well with the Crown Prince, and he’d blamed Wessek and his son Vars for their part in the failed operation.  Of course, since I’d taken Vars’ place and Wessek and Vars had both died in the process, that left his wrath coming down on me.

“Understood,” I told Prince Ladon.  I didn’t let any of what I felt onto my expression.  I had grown very good at hiding my real emotions, hiding everything about me, in the past couple of years.  It was amazing what the constant threat of death did for my ability to focus.

“Dismissed, Vars,” Prince Ladon waved a hand.  “And don’t let anyone see you on your way out.  I wouldn’t want our arrangement to become public.”

I left, slipping out into the corridor, keeping the hall monitors interrupted with the code the Prince had given me for that exact purpose.  I was going to have to come up with something to give Prince Ladon, something to keep him satisfied, without doing actual harm to Jonna or Princess Kiyu.

I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was going to have to figure something out.  Some part of me whispered that it didn’t matter what I figured out in the short term, Prince Ladon wouldn’t be satisfied until both of my friends went down, and he saw me as a means to that end.

I was going to have to figure out what to do about that.  One thing at a time, I told myself.

***

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