When the sickly King Aradane dies in his bed, the city of Skyhaven is thrown into chaos as a power vacuum threatens to consume the city.
His daughter and heir, Princess Ora, must quickly decipher who is friend and who is foe if she wishes to survive. To make matters worse, she becomes the target of a revolt who believe she is their only hope of victory.
And below, a dark power stirs, a power that could destroy the entire world.
A character-led fantasy with an ensemble cast.
Princess Ora Streylen looked out across the city from her balcony with a quiet thoughtfulness.
The wind had been whipped up into a frenzy by a lightning storm to the far east, so it now battered the haven with a vicious determination that sent her mousy blonde hair fluttering.
Soon, this city would be hers, whether she wanted it or not.
Of course, she had known this since she was old enough to know what it meant, she had been King Aradane's heir for almost twenty-five years. But now, it was an almost reality.
Her father lay on his deathbed on the other side of the Heavensreach spire. He had been sickly for years now, long dying, but lately his sickness had accelerated. In his less lucid states he often claimed that the claws of death were coming to take him, gripping her hand tight with his sweaty palms.
The city buzzed with midday energy. Across Tordaen's Crossing, one of the great gold bridges that joined the Royal Plateau with the rest of Skyhaven, the upper bazaar was alive. She was too far away and the winds were too strong for her to truly be able to smell the cinnamon scents of the markets, but in her mind she pretended she could.
Around the bazaar, the great spires of the various houses decorated the Kingswalk, each in an attempt to emulate the great spire of her home. In truth, none of them came close to the celestial grasp of Heavensreach. The golden spire reached into the clouds and more.
The city stretched on beyond her eyeline, larger than she had ever really been able to comprehend. Even as a child she could never understand how the huge city stayed in the air. Why did it never fall?
She heard a gentle cough behind her that yanked her out of her own head. She turned to find the hunched figure of her father's advisor standing behind her.
"Your grace," Alvan Mardell said. "He is asking for you."
Ora exhaled slowly and nodded, following Mardell out of her rooms and into the corridors of the palace.
Two escorts awaited her, she recognised both of them, one was a new recruit from the Sentinels - a pretty young woman with a slim figure and a broad face. She wore the brushed silver armour of the Heavensguard, the palace guard.
The other she knew better, one of her father's personal protectors, Danyel Freegarde.
"My lady," Danyel said, his blue eyes dipped solemnly. The other guard parroted him a split second later.
Ora greeted them politely, though she was distracted, her mind wandering to thoughts of what she might find in her father's bedchamber.
"Lead on," she said quietly.
Mardell went off ahead, with both of the guards standing in front and behind her. They moved at a relatively slow pace, but Ora had no desire to rush.
Mardell had always been a slow man, even before he went old and grey. He moved at a careful pace, each step measured and equal.
Ora had once been told by her father that as slow as the old man's steps were, his mind was twice as fast. He was not a man to be underestimated, by his enemies, or his allies.
They left the corridors of the lower rooms and climbed one of the many marble staircases to the king's chambers. The halls here were empty and quiet, her father despised the noise of the servants moving to and fro. Beyond his inner corridors, the only people allowed were his guards and a single maid every three days.
They arrived at her father's door of ornate brown wood, thicker than Ora's waist, with a heavy iron handle.
Danyel and the female guard took their post either side of the door and Mardell gestured for her to enter. Ora took a deep breath and went inside.
The door shut behind her with a sharp thud and the stench of the room inside hit her. In the darkness, with the windows concealed by the thick blinds, a pervasive odour of sweat and medicine had settled in the air and permeated the tapestries around the wall.
"Orabella," her father gasped from the darkness. "Dear daughter, is that you?"
Ora approached the bed, nodding, before remembering that he could not see her.
"It's me, father," she said, kneeling at her father's side. He reached out and grasped her arms with his. Pale, papery fingers.
Through the dim light she saw his face. It had been a few months since he had been well enough for visits, and even in that time his eyes had sunken into his head and his skin had gone grey.
"I'm here," she repeated, finally getting used to the smell. She leaned into him and stayed close.
"My time comes, Orabella," he said.
Orabella, she had always hated that name. She had been Ora to everybody else since the age of six, but always Orabella to her father.
"Nonsense, father, you'll be with us for a long while yet," Ora said, quietly. Her father shook his head with a pained grunt.
"No," he choked. "I feel myself slipping. My time is come."
She gripped his hand tighter. She was reminded of when her father was well and the two would go wandering in the groves below the palace, her hand in his.
"They will say I was a poor king," Aradane said. "I led no conquests, quelled no rebellions. I allowed the poor to become poorer and the rich to become richer. I allowed my own vassals to position themselves against my house. I may indeed have been a poor king - but at least, I hope, they will say I was a good father."
Ora felt a tear on her face.
"They will," she said. "I will make sure of it."
Her father laughed quietly and was overtaken by a racking cough that left him silent for a few moments. When he recovered, he met his daughter's eyes, even though he couldn't truly see her.
"You will be a great queen," he said. "You will be the queen that decides the fate of this city, but some may see you as prey. The weak daughter of a weak king. You must prove them wrong."
"Father," she began.
"They scheme already, my own men, closer to us than you would think," he said. For a moment, Ora thought she saw him glance at the door. "But there are those still loyal to us. Find them, ally with them. They will be your shield. You are no child, you know the workings of this palace, the people of this city. That will be your strength."
Ora nodded quietly. How many on the Royal Council were waiting for her father's death rattle to ring out? How many rival houses?
"Stay with me," her father asked quietly.
Ora could not deny him, she leaned into her father's chest and settled there, hearing his rough breath rise and fall.
"Animae onu meta," Ora whispered in the old words. Death find you alive.
She was not religious, but they were the words that had long been spoken.
She could not tell how long she lay there before his final breath drew out slowly. Her father's hand was still intertwined with hers.
Several minutes later, she sat back, wiped her eyes and stood. Outside, Mardell, Danyel and the other guard would be waiting. She entered as the daughter of a dying king, and knew she must emerge as his successor. The weak daughter of a weak king, you must prove them wrong, her father's words echoed.
She stood tall, inhaling and exhaling against the corset under her dress.
With a final glance at her father, his eyes closed and his pained face at rest, she left the room.
"My princess," Mardell asked quietly as she exited into the hall.
"No," she replied, as firmly as she could without her voice breaking. "Your queen."