Isadora, p.1
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       Isadora, p.1

           Charlotte McConaghy
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Isadora


  About the Book

  What would you do if your sworn enemy was also your soulmate?

  The kingdom of Kaya has been overthrown by a dark power. Trapped inside the dangerous capital, rebel leader Isadora fights the only way she can – by hunting those more monstrous than she.

  Falco is the exiled emperor of a nation in tatters. But fate demands he abandon the mask that has long disguised his true nature, and rise to meet his sworn enemy, the deadly Sparrow.

  No one is safe from the evil sweeping the lands, not even those in the far north strongholds of Pirenti. Crown Prince Thorne is plagued by ghosts, Lady Roselyn by the past. With his land and loved ones under threat, King Ambrose must find the strength to show his people a new way of life, or allow the nation’s legacy of violence to consume them.

  As world’s end draws near, the undeniable power of the bond ties Isadora and Falco together. The death of one means the death of both. But Isadora has never before surrendered to fate. She is determined to break free and choose her own path, no matter the cost.

  The heart-wrenching final chapter in the Chronicles of Kaya trilogy.

  Praise for Avery

  ‘I was hooked by this beautiful fantasy novel which not only delivers surprises, suspense, a magical but dark world and great action, but also a moving and powerful exploration of love, loss and second chances.’ Sophie Masson

  ‘No matter what I say, or how much I try to explain, some of you will just never understand that this isn’t just a book. It is an all-encompassing feeling that has stormed into my life and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be the same. They called this book “a sweeping romantic fantasy”. How aptly described. It swept me off my feet and swept the air out of my lungs.’ Morgana’s Book Extravaganza

  ‘I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Charlotte McConaghy has created a vibrant magical world full of emotions, fleshed out characters, kick-ass action and a bittersweet love story.’ Kathylill, Goodreads

  ‘That was the craziest ride I’ve been on for a while – I’m exhausted. Someone fetch me my Valium and a tumbler of gin! Not only is it full of bad-assery, but it’s also heartbreakingly sad and full of eloquent expressions of love, suffering and the human condition.’ The Urban Book Thief, Goodreads

  ‘This book may very well be one of my favorite books of the year.’ Rireading Books Blogspot

  ‘Every fan of the Graceling Trilogy will swoon over this book.’ Patrycja, Goodreads

  ‘If you love romance, alpha men (I mean really ALPHA men), magic, mystery and some downright epic fights then you will love this story!’ Kristen, Goodreads

  Praise for Thorne

  ‘This series has been incredibly captivating, and I devour each book in less than two days. That said, I am excited for the third book to come out! Charlotte McConaghy is a brilliant writer, she easily captivates you with her words and makes you laugh with her characters as well as cry.’ Kenzie, Chasing My Extraordinary

  ‘The Chronicles of Kaya is a MUST read for all the fantasy lovers, I would also recommend it to romance and adventure readers. It has everything to be your next favourite series, so please go and give it a try, you won’t regret it!’ Azahara Arenas, Living in Our Own Story

  ‘Wow – that is what comes to mind when I think of this book. With amazing characters and great details, you are pulled into the book. Every page pulls you deeper and deeper, until you find you have read the entire book. I found that this can be read as a standalone story, even though it is the second in the series. Definitely a must-read series!’ M Pollard

  ‘So much action, not as much brutality but again the author is spot on with feelings, passion and love. Fall in love with the characters again and touch base with the main characters from the first novel … I cannot wait for the next book, Isadora.’ Nat, Goodreads

  Contents

  Cover

  About the Book

  Praise for The Chronicles of Kaya

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Map

  Epigraph

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-one

  Chapter Thirty-two

  Chapter Thirty-three

  Chapter Thirty-four

  Chapter Thirty-five

  Chapter Thirty-six

  Chapter Thirty-seven

  Chapter Thirty-eight

  Chapter Thirty-nine

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  Ad for Avery

  Ad for Thorne

  Copyright Notice

  For the romantics

  ‘There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.’

  — Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

  Prologue

  Penn

  The world is made of numbers. I see every one of them. I feel every one. Some numbers fit inside others, some form patterns, some are breakable and others aren’t. Numbers are infinite and counting makes sense of the noise, the buzzing of feelings that gets inside me and makes it hard to breathe. People’s hearts flutter, their minds whirl and their hum saturates me. They forget how much they feel, but I never do.

  I can count anything.

  Number of steps from the top of Limontae’s cliff to the sand of the beach: 581. The number of lemons Alexi puts in his famous spiced cod: 5. The number of freckles on Finn’s nose and cheeks: 112. The times Jonah frowns each day: 9. How many times he smiles: 64. The centimeters between Thorne’s feet and the top of his head: 199. The centimeters from one of his stretched fingertips to the other: 210.

  The number of times Isadora has looked past me without seeing me: 0. The number of times she has ignored me: 0.

  I have 1 family with a dozen members, and 2 very mad parents. I had 1 pegasis before he died, with 4 spots on his hind legs and 3 on his breast.

  There are plenty of things to count, see?

  What I’m counting at this very moment is the number of minutes I’ve been sitting in this prison cell, waiting for the world to die.

  There is one moon in the sky and she’s slim. There are 6 metal bars blocking her face. There have been 13 screams from beyond the window.

  Something metallic rattles and I spin to face the bars of the cell door. There is one woman standing behind it, and she’s using one key to unlock two padlocks.

  ‘Shh,’ she bids me and I realise I have been counting very fast out loud, so I close my mouth and count inside instead.

  The door is open now. She gestures for me to hurry, but I don’t move.

  ‘Come, boy,’ she urges. ‘I won’t hurt you.’

  ‘You’re the Viper.’

  To which she replies, ‘I’ve shed my skin. Would that you could, too, Penn. It might see you through this nightmare.’

  But I don’t n
eed another skin. I just need more time.

  I’m forty-three minutes and four seconds late as I sprint away from that prison cell in the bowels of the world. And during those forty-three minutes my friends could have been killed forty-three times over. Maybe more. How many seconds does it take to kill? If they are dead it will be my fault, my burden to bear. Because it’s my two parents who will have struck the killing blows.

  Chapter One

  Falco

  Once I had a ma and da. I had two older brothers and one little sister. They had names and spirits, souls and smiles, words and thoughts and breaths and lives. I was loved. Drenched in love, a luxurious, absurd embarrassment of it.

  Now all I had was a mask I should have been able to remove. And dreams.

  In these dreams lived a girl with wings of snowy plumage and eyes filled with blood. I couldn’t escape her and often woke with the certainty that I was choking on her feathers.

  I could feel her circling. Most would look at me now and know I wasn’t worth the bother of putting down. But she’d always been different. For the Sparrow, the only question of my death was when.

  Isadora

  I woke with his name on my lips and it burned. The lingering taste, as always, turned my mouth to ash.

  Half a dozen warm, sleeping bodies were nestled around me, snoring quietly. I rolled over and stared at the ceiling. For the first week or so I’d been acutely uncomfortable with their nearness – with the communal nature of life here. But this morning, as the sun prepared to rise beyond the windows and the walls, I felt a moment of gratitude that I was not, for once, alone.

  Rising from the too-hot flood of blankets and limbs, I crept out into the small back courtyard.

  I wasn’t the first. Only yesterday he had mended that stool, not with his magic, but with his hands, and now there he sat. I drew near, waiting for him to notice me in the dark.

  ‘Did your dreams wake you again?’ Jonah of Limontae asked me, turning from his silent vigil of the dawn sky. When I didn’t reply, he said, ‘They woke me.’

  ‘I’m sorry.’

  ‘Don’t be. It’s just that you say his name all night, every night.’

  I swallowed the taste of shame at this mention of the curse on my soul.

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Hatred.’

  ‘Yes, but why?’

  I met Jonah’s green eyes. ‘He left us here.’

  And there was truth in that. Sancia was now under warder reign, its citizens living under curfews, punishments and the fear of imprisonment. With no way in or out people were starving, dying of infections, their homes destroyed and freedoms stolen. No escape and no end in sight. All bequeathed us when the Emperor of Kaya turned tail and ran, leaving his people to be conquered by the Mad Ones, Dren and Galia, whose ugly souls were warped by magic and cruelty.

  ‘We’ll get out of here,’ Jonah said with a certainty I didn’t share. ‘Finn and Thorne are coming.’ Which was what he said every night and every morning and every time anyone asked him. But it had been months and Finn and Thorne had not come. We had no way to tell if they were even receiving the messages we smuggled out.

  ‘What do you believe in, Iz?’ he asked me softly as he often did, always trying to make sense of the battle raging in his head. I hadn’t answered and didn’t intend to. Instead, I watched the moon. Jonah was prone to sentimentality, but it was foreign to me.

  ‘Why do you have so few words?’ He sounded frustrated now.

  I sat beside him on the bench, unsure how to offer him anything but this small gesture.

  ‘I believe in the madness of magic,’ he murmured. ‘Dren and Galia are wicked to their core. But at least I understand the nature of their madness – they’ve been corrupted by the very same thing that courses through my veins. It’s the other one I don’t understand. The Sparrow. I think he must be a monster to have set his life to destroying things without the madness of magic to blame.’ He turned his eyes to me and said, ‘It’ll get him, too, eventually. It’s magic that will be the end of us all.’

  Here was what I believed.

  That you were either the hunter or the hunted. The butcher or the meat. The caged or the free.

  And that four of my daggers had the names of their targets writ into the sharp edges of their blades. The Mad Ones, Dren and Galia.

  Falco of Sancia.

  And the name I hated most. Isadora the Sparrow.

  My body ached as it did each time I night-walked. I went through my stretches slowly and methodically, working the muscles and easing the tension. My neck always ached the most, and it took some concentration to knead the knots from it. When I was done I nodded at Penn and we left the small house, checking the street to either side. We kept to the shadows as we made our way to the marketplace.

  I wore a hooded cloak so my hair and skin wouldn’t be remembered. My hands strayed unconsciously beneath it to check each of my daggers, even though it had been years since the six weapons had left their places on my body – aside from when I used them. I couldn’t even stand to remove them when I slept or washed. The cool touch of metal against my skin had a calming effect. But then again, everything had a calming effect on me.

  The marketplace had long since died and now all that remained was its skeleton. The first time I’d witnessed it, nearly a year ago at Falco and Quillane’s national tournament, it was abuzz with life. I’d been wandering, wanting quiet and solitude, when instead I’d come across this explosion of sound and mess and something had stayed my feet. For the first time I’d let myself explore tastes unlike any I’d experienced – little morsels of sweet and savoury delights, dripping in crystallised sugar or spice. I gazed at gems and jewels of sparkling beauty, carved wooden trinkets and jewelry, leatherwork fine enough for royalty. I listened to instruments I couldn’t name and ran my fingers over endless, glorious weaponry. The knives were the finest I’d seen, but I hadn’t purchased any – mine had been forged specially, and I knew their weight as an extension of my body.

  Now Penn and I entered a grey, drab parody of a marketplace. Few stalls remained, and these were for ration distribution. Warders guarded them, watching as Kayan folk lined up for what little food had been afforded by their new rulers.

  Penn and I waited our turn. My eyes scanned the proceedings, looking for the face of my soldier. The girl, whose name I didn’t know, worked for the Sparrow, and thought I did too. I spotted her exchanging chits for food. These chits could only be earned by turning in weapons, medicinal supplies, any belongings, or by working for the palace. If you worked you’d find yourself cleaning streets – collecting the dead bodies and human waste – or serving the palace. This last duty paid a great deal more and was reserved for the beautiful. The Mad Ones did not abide ugliness.

  When Penn and I reached the front of the line we handed over our chits. To earn them, each night I pillaged abandoned houses for anything I could trade. I stole from the dead and felt no remorse. It was the living who suffered now.

  The girl took our chits without looking at me and turned to gather the small packages of grains and oats. All other supplies had been cut off when movement within the country was forbidden and the roads to the agricultural areas closed. Grains and oats came in at the behest of Dren and Galia, but there was only so much and it was never enough. Inns and taverns had shut their doors, bakeries had closed and fishermen were forbidden to unmoor their vessels at the docks.

  With an inconspicuous glance at the warders on either side of her, the girl handed us the packages, four in exchange for four chits. Underneath the bundle was a small scroll of parchment, hidden in her hand. I slipped it inside my tunic and nodded my thanks.

  ‘Lower your hood,’ one of the warders said abruptly. He was the shorter of the two, but it was difficult to distinguish him in any other way.

  I didn’t move.

  ‘Sire, I’d warn against it,’ Penn spoke for me. ‘She has a birth defect, and might scare the children.’ There was indeed a family behind
us, a mother and her three children gazing at us curiously.

  The warder flicked his hand impatiently and my hood flew back. To reveal the truth of me, hideous as it was. Born without pigment in my hair or skin, I was as pale as a snowflake, as colourless as a wisp of cloud. Except for my eyes. They were the only parts of me with a visible hue: the deep crimson of vein’s blood. They had shifted from this shade but once in my life.

  One of the children gasped aloud. Another started crying. But the third, I saw, smiled with rapt fascination even as his mother pulled him away from me.

  ‘She won’t hurt you!’ Penn assured them.

  I returned my eyes to the warders. One of them looked bored enough with the world to drift off to sleep right there. But the one who’d spoken had a lip curled in disgust. I’d come to expect it from warders, although it never failed to strike me as odd, given they too were sapped of colour. I supposed it was different: they’d once had brown hair, or eyes that shifted to brilliant azure. In warders there was always the memory of colour, but in me there was not even a whisper.

  ‘What are you?’

  I raised my chin. Not a good idea, as it would turn out. But even if I rarely felt much else, I did feel hatred, and it was too often an unwieldy beast.

 

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