The Bright and Breaking Sea by Chloe Neill



            War was a god, arrogant and proud. War was a human, earnest and ambitious. War was a child, petulant and demanding.

            Gerard Rousseau, emperor of Gallia, knew its rhythm well. Knew the beat of soldiers’ footsteps, the whinny of battle-tested horses, the look in the eye of a man who understood victory—or defeat—was already guaranteed. He didn’t love war, but he loved to command. To place his mark upon a battlefield, upon those who served him. To be victorious, and to pull that victory from the bloody grasp of defeat. To win.

            War was a means to an end. War was the tool that brought him control, power, people, territory. And with territory, magic. Magic buried inside stone and water and grassy plain, currents of power that feathered through the world like veins of gold through marble that could be felt by those who were Aligned to it. Some gave the lines a name: ley, aetheric, telluric. Some gave it an origin, said it was the fingerprint of the gods, the remnants of their physical touch upon the world.

            Gerard didn’t care how it came into being, or what name was given to it. He cared only for its potential . . . and for its possession. Whoever held the most land held the most magic. And whoever held the most magic held the most power. Literally and figuratively. He now ruled a large piece of the Continent, and intended to have the rest of it soon enough.

            War was a game, and he was its master. Chess spread across oceans and continents. And hadn’t he placed the pieces so very carefully across the board? A knight. A queen. A pawn. One at his side, one at his control, one unaware of the limitations of its position.

            He looked down at the spread of maps across his campaign desk.

            “At dawn,” Gerard said to the man who stood silently beside the desk, awaiting the emperor’s orders, “we move.”

* * *

            War was dirt and dust and exertion beyond exhaustion. War was time borrowed from death itself. War was escape from the strictures of obligation, a life narrowed to its thin, hard edge.

            A mile away from Rousseau, a man lay in the slope of a dusty hill, his linen nearly the same color as the orange-red dirt. The land was scrubby, rocky, and not useful for much that he could see—except observing the enemy.

            Rian Grant was one of Sutherland’s observing officers, tasked with learning the land, finding Gerard’s troops, uncovering their plans.

            He wasn’t Aligned, didn’t care for phenomena he couldn’t see or touch. But half the men in the twenty-member unit were. They could feel the terrain miles ahead, guide troops where to make camp, where to find water. One of the Aligned, a man named Bourne, had found the unit of Gallic soldiers, could feel the disruption in the currents of the earthworks they’d built to secure their position. Bourne had led them here, where Grant and his fellow officer, Dunwood, would listen and learn.

            For two days, they’d watched Gerard’s men eat, sleep, smoke, and drill, waiting for some sign of the army’s direction and destination. The first night, they’d nearly been captured by sentries scouring the hillside for nosy locals or enemy spies. But the sentries tramped off toward the camp again, none the wiser.

            Dunwood lay beside Grant in the dirt, spyglass to his eye, the metal scoured so there’d be no glint of sunlight to give away their position. “They’ll be going west.”

            Grant snorted. “Copper says you’re wrong. Again. They won’t march directly toward the lines. They’ll move around, try to outflank.”

            Marcus Dunwood considered the bet, nodded. “I’ll take that.”

            Four hours later, when the lines shifted and began to move west, Dunwood cursed.