The Express of Xytae by Effie Calvin
Crown Princess Ioanna of Xytae has kept her truthsayer blessing a secret for twenty years. In any other nation, her powerful magic would be cause for celebration. But Xytae’s patron is the war goddess Reygmadra, and the future empress is expected to be a brutal warrior.
Reserved and peaceful by nature, Ioanna knows the court sees her as a disappointment. She does her best to assuage their worries every day, working quietly beside her mother to keep the empire running while her father is away at war. But when news of the emperor’s untimely death reaches the capital, Ioanna finds herself ousted by her younger sister Netheia, who has the war magic Ioanna lacks.
Princess Vitaliya of Vesolda has come to Xytae to avoid her father’s upcoming wedding, which she sees as an affront to her mother’s memory. Vitaliya has absolutely no interest in politics or power struggles and intends to spend her time attending parties and embarrassing her family. But when she saves Ioanna’s life during Netheia’s coup, the two are forced to flee the capital together.
Despite their circumstances, Vitaliya enjoys travelling with Ioanna and realizes that the future empress’s shy and secretive nature is the result of her unhappy childhood. Ioanna is equally unaccustomed to being in the company of one as earnest and straightforward as Vitaliya, for she has spent her life surrounded by ambitious and cutthroat nobles.
Ioanna cannot allow her sister to continue their father’s legacy, and plots to rally supporters to her side so she can interrupt Netheia’s coronation. Vitaliya knows she ought to leave Xytae before the nation is ripped apart by civil war but finds she is unwilling to abandon Ioanna. But Ioanna’s enemies are always watching…and they’ve realized that Vitaliya is a weakness to be exploited.
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An Excerpt from Testament
The Imperial Palace at Xyuluthe buzzed with anticipation. Empress Enessa had finally gone into labor, and the heir to the Xytan Empire would be born within a few hours. The archpriest of Adranus and the archpriestess of Pemele were both there to aid with the birth along with countless members of the imperial court who would bear witness to the historic event.
Reygmadra, Goddess of Warfare and Eighth of the Ten, waited just outside the empress’s chambers, unseen by all who passed. She would not deny she was beginning to grow impatient. She was only here to bless the child, the future empress. Then she would be on her way.
If the child ever arrived.
Reygmadra had no tolerance for children, nor for the tedious conversations that always surrounded a birth—discussions of size, weight, and bodily functions. She had left the empress’s room because she had grown tired of the pointless hysterical screaming, but this was undoubtably worse.
Unfortunately, she could not grant a blessing to a mortal until after it had taken its first breath. This was one of the rules she and her fellow gods had agreed upon when they’d first set out to create Inthya. Even Reygmadra could see the value in this one, for if babies could use magic in the womb, nobody would ever risk giving birth ever again.
Emperor Ionnes was occupied, as always, by his campaign in Masim. He would not return to meet his new daughter for several months. Some of the members of the court were muttering about this, but Reygmadra did not see the trouble. What help could Ionnes be right now? He would only be in the way if he tried to help. At least in Masim, he was serving his nation by leading the army.
She longed to be there, whispering ideas in his ear as he slept, soaking up the power she received when tens of thousands of warriors prayed to her in unison. Of course, the prayers would find her no matter where she was on the mortal realm of Inthya or in the celestial planes of Asterium. But there was nothing like experiencing it firsthand.
Babies seemed to bring out the stupidest, weakest aspects of mankind. One of the Xytans was now relaying a tale of someone else’s labor, and Reygmadra decided to take a walk before she lost her temper and stabbed someone.
She moved through the palace like a specter, her face unseen and heavy footsteps unheard. She was dressed as she usually did when she manifested on Inthya, as a common soldier with short sword and breastplate. If someone did somehow see her, they would think nothing of her.
One of the rooms led out into a garden, and Reygmadra decided she had been indoors for too long. She stepped out into the sunlight, into the fresh air.
Reygmadra didn’t think much of gardens—they were really just a waste of space—but this one was empty, so she would stay for a while. As she moved, she kept an ear to the palace, hoping she would soon hear distant cheers.
A woman dressed as a Xytan noble stood there among the flowers. She had olive-toned skin and long, wavy ebony hair, and her face was impossibly, supernaturally beautiful. The dress she wore was simple but elegant, all wine-colored silk that perfectly emphasized wide hips and a narrow waist. Despite her disguise as a mortal woman, Reygmadra recognized Dayluue—Goddess of Love and Seventh of the Ten.
“It will be a while yet,” said Reygmadra. “Why are you here?”
“I’m feeling neglected,” Dayluue said. “You haven’t come to see me in ages.”
“You’re always busy.” Crimson lips pressed together in a pout as Dayluue adjusted the neckline of her dress aggressively. “Maybe I should call on someone else. I wonder what Nara is doing.”
Possessive rage seized at Reygmadra, and Dayluue began to laugh. But the sound was cut short when Reygmadra grabbed her by the shoulders. A moment later, she had Dayluue pressed between the garden wall and her own body.
“I love it when you get jealous,” Dayluue said breathlessly. “Kiss me?”
Reygmadra brought her lips to Dayluue’s throat. Dayluue tilted her head back, hands clasping at Reygmadra’s hair, and laughed again. “I have missed you,” she said.
“I don’t believe you,” said Reygmadra because expecting strict monogamy from Dayluue was like expecting a bird to refrain from flight.
“I’ll prove it, then.” Dayluue’s eyes sparkled.
“No. I’m busy.”
“I never took you for the sort to get excited over a birth. Or are you finally realizing what I’ve been saying about the population—”
“No. I’m just giving her a blessing, and then I’m leaving.”
“It might be a while,” warned Dayluue. “Labor can last an entire day.”
Reygmadra shuddered. “Awful.”
“Well, they wouldn’t have to do it so often if you didn’t keep convincing them to kill one another.”
Reygmadra rolled her eyes. “Did you come here just to argue?”
Dayluue pressed her lips to Reygmadra’s. “Only if you really want to,” she murmured into her mouth. The scent of her mortal body, flowers and sweat and pheromones, was intoxicating.
They were antithesis to each other, and yet, there was an undeniable symmetry to their domains. They were two primal forces, mindless impulse given sentience. And sometimes the fiery lust Dayluue elicited from her felt identical to the thrill of battle.
Perhaps that was why Dayluue always returned to her. Perhaps that was why Reygmadra did not object to Dayluue’s wandering.
When they met like this in Asterium, it was a union of selves, of auras and magic, and two becoming one in the way none but their own kind could hope to understand. It was delightful to have Dayluue’s energy surging through her, to feel her own spirit within Dayluue. Reygmadra always came away from these unions feeling softer, lighter. But not weaker. Never weaker.
On Inthya, with warm bodies made of blood and flesh, things were different. On Inthya, Dayluue was in control, and Reygmadra was helpless under her expert fingers.
“Kiss me again,” said Dayluue. “But lower, this time.”
About Effie Calvin
Effie is definitely a human being with all her own skin, and not a robot. She writes science fiction and fantasy novels and lives with her cat in the greater Philadelphia area.
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