Dees has won a Golden Heart Award, two RITAs for Category Suspense and Adventure and has also twice snared RT's Series Romantic Suspense of the Year. She is a great storyteller, and the adventures in her more than fifty novels are often inspired by her own life. Dees is an Air Force vetthe youngest female pilot in Air Force historyand fought in the first Gulf War. She's had amazing adventures, and she's used her experiences to tell some kickass stories.
But as much as she love romances, Cindy's other passion has been fantasy gaming. For almost twenty years she's been involved with Dragon Crest, one of the original live action role-playing games. She's the story content creator on the game, and wanted to do an epic fantasy based on it, with the blessing and input of Dragon Crest founder Bill Flippin.
The Sleeping King is the first in an epic fantasy series, featuring the best of the genre: near immortal imperial overlords, a prophecy of a sleeping elven king who's said to be the savior of the races . . . and two young people who are set on a path to save the day.
The Sleeping King Trilogy
#1 The Sleeping King
#2 The Dreaming Hunt
#3 The Wandering War
About the Author
BILL FLIPPIN is the creator of Dragon Crest, turning his fictional world into a national live-action role playing game, with ongoing Dragon Crest events and campaigns all over the United States.
Read an Excerpt
The Sleeping King
By Cindy Dees, Bill Flippin
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin
All rights reserved.
Anton Horatio Constantine fidgeted anxiously in the solid gold doorway behind an Imperial secretary, who announced in the flat intonation of a deaf man, "Anton Constantine."
Insolent bastard didn't even announce his full name. As if he were a lowly servant himself.
"Bid him enter, already!" a male voice snapped.
Anton recognized the irritable tones of his mentor and sponsor at court, Archduke Ammertus, whose coattails he'd been shamelessly riding in the Imperial Seat. The archduke was not only an angry man, but also an ambitious one. The kind who would aggressively place his favored servitors in critical positions of power. Anton had parlayed his service in Ammertus's Dread legion into continued service at court in hopes of becoming one of those favored ones.
His own relentless lust for power flared and he quickly tamped it down. With downcast eyes, he glided into His Resplendent Majesty, Maximillian the Third, Emperor of the Eternal Empire of Koth's private receiving chamber. It was a much smaller version of the Great Golden Throne Room, but still fabulously opulent in its own right.
The floor was made of solid gold, as were the jewel-inlaid golden walls and ceilings. Even the line of servants off to the left were beautiful and perfect, as still as statues, deaf one and all.
The display of raw wealth was such that Anton felt faintly ill with envy. He could swear the green serpent tattoo on his forehead actually burned with jealousy.
"Come closer, Constantine." The resonant, terrifying voice of the Emperor emanated from the black throne at the far side of the room.
Shock slammed into Anton. Maximillian himself was present at this meeting? What could it mean? Terror and avid excitement warred like serpents knotted in his stomach. Hastily Anton knelt and made his obeisance at the foot of a magnificent gold dais leading up to the sinuous carved obsidian throne in the shape of a flame.
He held his forehead to the floor until Ammertus cleared his throat and intoned, "Rise and bask in the glory of Koth, Constantine."
Anton rose and assumed a ramrod-stiff position of attention before his ancient benefactor, an ageless warrior of a man with a thick, messy head of red hair. The archduke stood to the right and one step down from the Emperor in the position of the Emperor's champion. Ammertus's son and demi-scion, High Lord Tyviden Starfire, stood at his father's right hand one more step down. Only slightly less violent and twisted than his sire, Starfire was possibly more ambitious even than Anton.
To the Emperor's left stood his chief advisor, High Perceptor Iolanthe, mother of Maximillian's daughter and heir, High Princess Endellian. One step below her stood High Marshal Korovo. Ammertus stood as representative of the Emperor's nine archdukes and duchesses, while Iolanthe and Korovo served as his personal advisors. What topic could possibly draw so many of such power to this council? And why on Urth did they summon him into their midst?
"You served me faithfully as an Imperial Army officer in the Changing Lands of Kentogen, Constantine, and you served me well in Haelos."
Ammertus's words twisted around him, living things, probing the edges of his mind, seeking chinks in his mental armor. Anton blinked them away, immediately regretting the display of lack of control.
He forced his mind back to the topic the Emperor and his council apparently discussed today. Haelos? The northern continent? Why that?
Images rolled unbidden through his mind. Or perhaps were called forth by the Emperor's will. Whether Anton wished it or no, the memories overtook him. A more uncivilized, uncouth place he'd never seen. The prisoners-turned-colonists who lived there, scraping a living from the untamed wilds, were little more than savages, criminals and malcontents banished from Koth to live or die as their will to work dictated. The continent's natives were no better — a motley assortment of races, many of them monstrous half-breeds born of unnatural unions.
"Haelos has not been restless in a while," Maximillian commented.
That was good. Right? Why then did he hear dissatisfaction in Ammertus's answering grunt? Was that a flash of avarice in Starfire's hooded gaze? Anton waited cautiously. He would not speak unless told to.
"His Resplendent Majesty has decided to grant the penal settlement of Dupree on Haelos the status of full colony. Which means its warden will need to be replaced with a governor."
Was that why they'd summoned him to this meeting? Were they considering him to be governor of the new colony? Exultation roared through him before he managed to corral its rampage.
"You have served me loyally and well these many years hence, as well," Ammertus declared. Emphasis on "loyally."
He was widely known to be Ammertus's man, as faithful a dog as the archduke's own son. That the archduke saw fit to remind him of it in the context of this discussion was intriguing. A message to Maximillian that Anton was his man, mayhap?
Ammertus continued, "You are suited to Dupree as well as anyone. And of course, you safeguard the Emperor's interests tirelessly at all times, do you not?"
He opened his mouth to agree most fervently that he lived only to serve the Empire, but a movement off to his right startled him into glancing away from the Emperor for a second. Horrified, he slammed his gaze back to the throne. To look away from the Emperor uninvited was an egregious insult to His Resplendent Majesty. Abject relief turned his gut to water as he saw that Maximillian, too, had looked over at the opened golden door and failed to notice Anton's unpardonable breach of etiquette.
"What is it, Oretia?" Ammertus snapped.
Anton's eyes widened. Oretia? The oracle of the Imperial Court? It was said the powerful Child of Fate had never been wrong in centuries of prophecies. Supposedly, it was she who foretold the death of the first Emperor, she who predicted the mysterious disappearance of the second Maximillian. It was also rumored that she was a key power behind this Maximillian's throne for the thirty-two hundred years of his reign.
Given her age, Anton expected her to look old. He expected wrong. She was born of the extremely long-lived race of janns, her skin swirling with the colors of the elements to which janns aligned themselves. However, if the rumors of her age were accurate, the Emperor himself must have gifted her with exceptional longevity. At a glimpse — and that was all he dared allow himself out of the corner of his eye — she could pass for a woman of middle age, the sort who worked hard at preserving herself. Her bare arms were firm even if the mottled skin covering them looked somewhat leathery. Fine wrinkles crisscrossed what Anton could make out of her face, but as her scowl eased, her skin smoothed into a falsely young mask.
"A prophecy comes," she announced in a surprisingly lush and throaty voice.
Ammertus retorted, "Write it down and show it to His Majesty later. We are busy now!"
Anton gaped at her scornful gaze, locked in anger with Ammertus's. She dared defy one of the archdukes, only exceeded in power by the Emperor himself? Did she have a death wish? Belatedly, Anton remembered himself. He hurled his gaze back to Maximillian and missed the rest of the silent battle of wills raging around him. But the air fairly crackled with it, a faint, metallic smell of ozone abruptly permeating the golden room.
Oretia snarled, "Your petty politics can wait. The power building within me is unique. Olde magicks touch me this day!"
The Emperor's eyebrows twitched into a momentary frown — a mighty loss of control for him. So. Olde magicks worried him, did they? Interesting.
Maximillian leaned back casually on his throne, whereas Ammertus leaned forward aggressively. "Is this prophecy about His Resplendent Majesty?"
"Would I be here if it were not?"
Maximillian ordered in a bored tone, "Tell me, then."
"It comes an-o-n ...," her voice trailed off, taking on a singsong tone as she drew out the last syllable. "Ahh, the power of it. Perhaps I shall not share this after all...."
Ammertus moved faster than Anton would have believed possible, launching himself off the dais and across the room to the oracle. The archduke embraced her head in his hands, shoving her up against a golden wall, staring into her eyes as if he would suck her brains from her skull. A visible field of energy built around the two of them, pulsing with almost sexual intensity.
"Sing for us, little Oretia," Ammertus crooned.
Anton shuddered at the depravity and power in that voice. Gads, and to think the Emperor surpassed that power by orders of magnitude.
The oracle moaned, her body arching into a taut, vibrating bow, only her head still, trapped between Ammertus's clutching hands.
"The end," she gasped. "I see the end."
"Of what?" The archduke was breathing heavily, something repulsive throbbing in his thick voice.
She spoke in bursts torn from her throat. "A nameless one ... wakes in the wilds ... shackles break —" Her voice broke on a hoarse cry and she sagged in Ammertus's grip, clawing ineffectually at his hands on either side of her head.
"What?" he shouted, shaking her violently. "Show me."
The force of that mindquake drove Anton to his knees, buffeting him nearly unconscious. His thoughts scattered, ripped asunder by that awful voice. Struggling to hang on to his fragmenting sanity, Anton stared up at the Emperor sitting at ease on his throne, completely unaffected by the massive mental energy flying through the air. His ageless face was devoid of expression, his eyes reflecting only bland disinterest.
Even Starfire seemed to be experiencing mental distress, and a look of concentration wreathed his features as he shielded himself from his father's psychic assault. Iolanthe and Korovo did not appear mentally overly distressed by Ammertus's outburst, but they did look mildly annoyed by it.
Of a sudden Oretia straightened in Ammertus's grasp and, to Anton's amazement, tore free entirely. She paced the width of the golden room, sparks flying from her hair as she whirled to stalk back. She paused before the throne, staring at it and the man on it, nodding to herself. The guards on either side of the Emperor tensed as she stalked up the stairs to stand directly in front of Maximillian, who might have been carved from the same obsidian as his throne for all that he reacted.
Her voice, preternaturally deep, resonated off the walls like a terrible storm. "Hear this, for I speak true. A nameless one comes. From the depths of the untamed lands to destroy us all. Olde magicks returned, change born of earth and stars. Greater than thee, Maximillian, Last Emperor of Koth. When Imperial gold is bathed in blood, your fate is written and cannot be undone. The end of Eternal Koth is anon."
Profound silence enveloped the room. Everyone stared at the oracle standing defiantly before them, her head held high, the tips of her hair glowing in a bright nimbus around her.
The building fury upon Ammertus's thunderous features made Anton cringe in spite of himself. He knew that look. The archduke was dangerously close to snapping. Ammertus had never been known as a reasonable or particularly stable man when crossed.
Anton was stunned as the oracle raised an accusing finger and pointed it at the enraged Kothite noble. "And as for you, Ammertus, Archduke of the Colonies. Your line shall end in the Cradle of Dragons."
Ammertus and Starfire both jolted at this. Anton noticed Ammertus's hand drifting to the long red braid tucked in his belt. It was said to be the hair of his permanently deceased — and favorite — daughter, Avilla. But it was Ammertus who drew in a long breath of outrage and fury, all the more frightening for how long it took him to fill his lungs. And then he screamed. "You lie!"
The mind blast accompanying the accusation knocked Oretia off her feet, flinging her backward violently. She must have hit her head, for she collapsed in a rag doll heap, spilling blood over the golden dais. She rolled bonelessly down the steps and came to a halt at Anton's feet, a disheveled tangle of limbs and hair.
Terror for his own fate exploded within Anton. It was a cowardly impulse to think of himself first before the broken oracle dying before him, but he'd never claimed to be a hero. And he had seen just how insane Ammertus could be in the midst of one of his rages. Anton dived to the floor beside Oretia, not to aid her, but to hide behind her.
This mind blast rippled through the air in visible waves, spreading outward faster than the eye could track to slam into everyone else in the room. From his vantage point on the floor, Anton watched the worst of the wave pass overhead. He grabbed Oretia's elbows and yanked her body across him. Just in time, too, for the mind blast ricocheted like a living thing, now bouncing crazily throughout the space, smashing into any and all soft living thing, sundering flesh and blood more easily than the sharpest sword. Even Starfire hit the floor, arms thrown over his head and face buried against the steps.
Blood erupted throughout the hall as the servants fell like ninepins, sliced neatly — and not so neatly — into ribbons of meat and bone. Oretia took the brunt of the blast above him, bathing him in hot blood.
Her head turned slightly and he nearly gagged at the sight of her eyeball dangling out of its socket by slimy strands of nerve and vein. Her remaining eye locked on his, unfocused, glazing over with encroaching Death. She moved feebly, struggling to gather herself for one last effort.
Her flayed facial muscles twitched uselessly. Whether she managed to speak it aloud or merely projected it into his brain, Anton registered only a single croaked word.
And then her bloody and broken body went limp across his.
Ammertus ranted and raved for several minutes, storming around the room, destroying anything and anyone who dared cross his path. Finally, he devolved into mad, childlike laughter. Anton lay frozen on the floor, unashamedly pretending to be dead.
"Enough, Ammertus," Maximillian said with quiet authority, all the more sinister for its lack of emphasis. "I know your grief is great, but do not let it get the best of you. "Steel your resolve, Ammertus. You lost much in Haelos, but we are in Koth now." And henceforth, please refrain from slaughtering Children of Fate. Prophets of their power do not grow on vines, and I have use for them."
Anton risked peeking up. The Emperor had not moved from his casually seated position. Starfire pushed cautiously to his feet, looking around at the carnage with disdain.
Anton stared at the destruction. The entire room was covered in blood. Floors, walls, ceiling — where there once was gold, now there was only obscenely red blood, flowing, dripping, clinging to every surface. When Imperial gold is bathed in blood ...
Had the prophecy already begun to come true? What was the last bit? Oh yes. When Imperial gold is bathed in blood, your fate is written and cannot be undone —
Anton lurched as Ammertus snarled from directly above him. The archduke's fury had transformed to something bitterly cold and a hundred times more vicious than the screaming rage of the past few minutes.
"I have a job for you, Constantine...."
* * *
Anton shook out his black court robe, sending the embroidered golden serpents on the sleeves dancing, their emerald eyes glinting malevolently. A mask of confidence was frozen upon his face as a matter of habit. But for once, it was truly a mask. He'd been meditating frantically since the earlier incident, and since he'd received the summons to present himself in open court to the Emperor.
Anton shivered in involuntary terror at the prospect of coming under Maximillian's direct and public scrutiny. It marked the pinnacle of a courtier's life ... or its end.
Two stone-faced Imperial guards opened the massive amber doors before the milling crowd waiting to enter the golden hall. The air crackled with great events afoot this night.
Excerpted from The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees, Bill Flippin. Copyright © 2015 Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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