Back in, oh about, 2017 or so, when I first started thinking that maybe I could get back into writing fiction and I was playing around with the idea of a space opera about genetically engineered samurai-types, running around with swords in a universe that used not only nanotechnology but other advanced tech, I had no idea it would take more than half-a-million words to do that.
Of course at the time I was not thinking in terms of trilogies or even series. My naive self thought that I could get it all done in one book. In fact, Darien and Syteria getting together happened in the first quarter of the book. I did mention my naïveté, didn’t I?
The Syteria and Darien that existed on page in 2017 were two very different people.
I set out to write a Syteria from a world ruled by women. Not just ruled, but viciously so, to the point where most men were killed. The Rhoans were misandrist (haters of men) misopedic (haters of children), and oikophobic (fear of home/domesticity). They used their advanced technology to make sure men were not needed or tolerated.
Given who the Rhoans were, I had to create their opposite, the Kappans1. The Rhoans and Kappans had to be separate societies, and the only thing that made sense to me at the time was for them to be so separate that they didn’t even share the same planet. But they had to be inexorably bound together, unable to get away from each other. In order to do that, I put them on a double planet2.
At some point, the people that would become the Rhoans, kicked the people that would become the Kappans off-world. I don’t exactly know how they did this, not having written it yet. In order for this to work, I had to posit that the Rhoans had more advanced technology in order to keep the more aggressive Kappans in check. Initially, the conflict was going to be between a Rhoan female and a Kappan male. I was going to take the battle of the sexes to a whole new level.
But in fleshing out the premise, it soon became quite apparent that getting someone who believed in the Rhoan philosophy and in reducing the population of men just to the few required to keep a species going wouldn’t work. She could not be from a society that didn’t need the muscle power of men, that raised their female offspring in creches. How would I get her to the point where she would be able to hook up with a man of any kind? It was going to take a lot more time and effort and I would end up with a book that was about nothing but a war (a literal one) of the sexes. I decided that I didn’t want to go there.
Because I am (somehow) a romantic at heart, I instead wanted to write about what a man and a woman could to together, how they could be greater than the sum of their parts.
That meant recasting the Kappans as Syteria’s people and creating the donai. It made far more sense to have someone who was born on Kappa and initially raised as a Kappan (with a family, with men who loved and cared for and protected her) to be taken from the society of her birth and brainwashed to be a Rhoan. It also made sense that the Rhoans would not want to do the dirty work of war themselves and would instead take the daughters of their enemies and make cannon fodder out of them. And that is how the eniseri were born.
It was at this point that I realized that I was also going to have to make this a fish-out-of-water story, i.e. have Syteria torn not just from the world of her birth, but from the world of the Rhoans, Matriarchs, and eniseri. And that I was going to make the donai not just the opposite of the Rhoans, but Kappans on steroids, i.e. more Kappan than Kappans.
And since I wanted to write a space opera that included adventures on different worlds rather than a commentary on social issues wearing a thin mask of “science fiction” I was going to have to do more. Much more …
In order for Syteria to survive, she was going to have to adapt, and the donai were not going to make it easy. It’s a good thing I like the enemies-to-lovers trope.
Since the best heroes are the flip side of the villain coin, I gave the donai something in common with Syteria–they too had been, at one point, slave-soldiers. They too had been created as cannon fodder in someone else’s war. The difference was that they overthrew their masters–who of course had to be human, because that would complicate things for Darien.
And if we were to design soldiers, how would we do it? We would give them speed, strength, the ability to heal, ingrain obedience and an overwhelming need to protect, and ensure that if they bred, they couldn’t breed on their own. Enter the Ryhmans. Like the Rhoans, they didn’t want to do their own fighting and dying. So they used their genetic engineering to create the donai and in that creation, made them dependent on their nanites symbionts for their ability to heal. The Ryhmans tweaked their own genetic code (their DNA) just enough to make sure that the donai would require their own custom nanotech.
One of the things I learned from working in cancer research is that we have a tremendous amount of arrogance as a species, thinking that we can control things just because we have some level of understanding. We may be able to understand how our bodies work, but we can’t create a human being from scratch. And there are always unknown unknowns lurking in the shadows, waiting to teach us a lesson about hubris.
Since I was already playing with the idea of the donai being based on the samurai, making the backdrop one consisting of feudal noble houses made sense and I ran with it. A happy-yappy rainbow world of equality is perfect for reality, but makes for horrible fiction. The uneven power dynamics that came out of that, with humans having the tables flipped on them and becoming slaves to their own creations, provides a backdrop fertile for all kinds of conflict and tension.
This is the setup for the Ravages of Honor series.
As I fleshed out Conquest (Book 1) I realized that it would have to be at least a trilogy. And now that I’ve finished Lineage (Book 3) I realize that it can be much more. But this trilogy is complete in the sense that it is complete for where Darien and Syteria are now.
This does not mean that I am done them.
Ultimately this story was about the choices that not only define us, but either make or break us. For Darien, it was the choice to defy the emperor by saving and then refusing to surrender Syteria. For Syteria, it was the choice to become the Kappan woman that the Rhoans had almost destroyed. For both of them, it was about the sacrifices they made –that’s what makes for heroes, after all–and their commitment to do the right thing despite the ravages of honor.
This is why I’m proud to present to you this excerpt from book three, Lineage.
Have no enemies.
The words inscribed around House Kabrin’s dragon sigil glowed with a vibrant green that looked so much like the old color of Syteria’s eyes that it made her shudder. It was the way the light hit the dark, green stone, painting it with false hints of blue, cyan, and turquoise. What it was doing here, on Serigala, in the palace gardens, Syteria didn’t know.
The Kabrin sigil and motto looked like something that had once been part of a stone edifice, probably an official government building or perhaps some monument. The stone it was carved into was twice as tall as she was, and wider still, its edges ragged, like it had been torn—rather than cut—from a larger piece.
A breeze disturbed the night, ruffling the manicured lawn, making the grass tickle her bare ankles. It tugged at the flowing nightgown clinging to her. She grabbed at the billowing robe that had slipped off her shoulder and drew it up tight.
Despite casting her as a threat to the Imperium, the emperor hadn’t really seen her as such. It was the only reason he and the other donai had ignored her. She’d been unarmed. They’d thought her defeated. It could have so easily gone wrong. Had her hands been shaking, had she hesitated, had she missed. Had she hit anything but that thin layer of bone, had the bullet not carved an easy path from temple through several lobes of his brain …
For an instant she saw his body atop that crimson pool of blood. For a terrible moment it had looked like the nanites would repair the bone and skin. For too many moments since, she relived that dread, waiting for him to rise again, either whole or as an empty shell.
Her hand strayed to her dagger, tucked safely in its thigh sheath. Palleton still denied her the use of a sidearm. Lord Dobromil didn’t want anyone even suspecting that she could use one. All to keep their secret—her secret—that she, not Darien, had been the one to take the emperor’s life.
The emperor’s lifeless body would be forever etched in her memory. Thán Kabrin had tried to break her—mind, body, spirit, and soul. He’d almost succeeded. Her broken body had been healed. Her mind and spirit were still healing. And her soul?
That remained to be seen. If the emperor was to remain a ghost that haunted her in moments of weakness, that invaded her sleep and sent her wandering the palace grounds in the middle of the night, then so be it.
A ghost could not harm her child. Not now while it was still in her womb. Not once it was born.
That’s all that mattered.
Keeping her child safe. Keeping it out of the reach of Kabrin’s allies and vassals who might see it as their duty to avenge their liege. Even if House Dobromil could keep the identity of the emperor’s executioner secret, its enemies would still come for her and her child. They would come if for no other reason than she was both the most vulnerable and the most dangerous member of House Dobromil.
Vulnerable because she was human. Dangerous because she bore its heir.
It still didn’t feel quite right, counting herself as part of a donai House, but she was slipping into that way of thinking more easily with each passing day. She had to.
Adapt or die.
It was the way of things. Always had been. Here, where they traveled from star system to star system and used nanotechnology. Or on Kappa, where they’d fallen back to traveling by animal-drawn carts.
She looked up at the darkness of Serigala’s sky. Its two moons had set, leaving only the net of the planet’s defensive grid, something that looked like a shell made up of bright, sparkling diamonds connected by fine silk.
Lights flickered along the edge of the garden path. Darien was making his way toward her. He was already dressed for the coming day: black ship-fatigues with red piping and trim; House Dobromil’s wolf’s-head sigil on his breast; black boots, polished to a high gloss. Sidearm. Dagger. Sword.
Not so long ago, the thread of pair-bond would have warned her of his approach, but it too was gone. The strength of their pair-bond depended on his nanites, on a steady infusion of them via physical contact, on how often he bit her, how often they mated. In the weeks since he’d marked her—since he’d been forced to mark her—he had refused to make love to her, refused her advances, and the pair-bond had faded to nothing.
He came to stand at her side. He towered over her, and she wasn’t a small woman, not even for a human. She was still getting used to his newly gained height, a “gift” of the Cold that had had him in its grip for so long. It had changed him.
He was no longer the half-breed who had compromised his honor to save her life or who’d gone cold when he’d thought her dead. He had become something more, something that she should fear, but didn’t.
“What is it?” Syteria asked, indicating the stone.
Her fingers, slightly cold from the chill in the night air, hesitantly threaded into his. They were like embers against her skin. Embers that—for once—he did not pull away.
“Have no enemies,” she said, reading the bold strokes of High Kanthlos.
“It sounds so … noble,” she continued, her tone full of irony. “Honorable even.”
“Does it? Why do you say that?”
“It’s so … Rhoan. Like something the Matriarchs would use. It implies a lack of conflict, of strife. Like someone who only has friends, who will go to any length to avoid making enemies.”
They turned to each other and he slowly brought her hand to his lips. He’d cut his hair when he’d broken with his House so he could challenge the emperor and rescue her. It still hadn’t quite grown back to the shoulder length required of someone of his station. Its thick, dark strands framed him in an unruly way, like a torn and battered halo that had settled reluctantly on his head. Two heartbeats later he laid a kiss atop her hand.
His irises had returned to the usual donai-amber, a color she—as a marked woman—now shared. But unlike her very human pupils, his were gold. The brushed silver full of snaking black lines—something that no other donai, not even ones who’d gone cold, had ever exhibited—were gone from the whites of his eyes.
For a moment there, as he’d marked her, as he’d sunk his cuspids into her jugular and put his nanites directly into her blood, she’d caught a glimpse of his shadow, that thing that lingered inside him. That darkness who wore a skin like ink and looked back at her with eyes like blood. She’d reached out to touch it, certain that it wasn’t—couldn’t—be real. She’d thought it an illusion, her pain-addled mind giving form to something it didn’t understand.
Crystals had formed as she’d touched it, making it look like black ice about to shatter. It had been as real as anything she’d ever seen or touched. Was it still there within him, hiding?
Even now, thinking of it, remembering it, chilled her blood.
Darien let her go and turned back to the stone. “House Kabrin chose this motto to let everyone know that their enemies would be destroyed. It is a warning to those who would stand against them.”
She reached for the carving. A forcefield flared, betraying its presence with a resistant hum. She caressed it, letting the feel of it pulse and throb beneath her skin until its heat was too much to bear.
“Palleton ordered it shielded before he left,” Darien said. “He’s not convinced it hasn’t been weaponized in some way.”
“Who sent it?”
“House Yedon. They are a minor House, a vassal of Kabrin’s.”
“An enemy?” she asked.
“Unfortunately, we’re not yet certain. Some of Kabrin’s vassals have stepped forward, eager to pledge themselves to us. Others have been silent.”
“And you suspect those who’d so easily switch alliances as much as those who have not.”
“Yes. It is not as simple as my father and I would like it to be. House Dobromil was a reluctant vassal for generations. We were one of the few who stood against Thán Kabrin, the ‘loyal opposition’ some called us.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t intend to complicate things. I’m sor—”
He grabbed her shoulders.
She flinched, regretted it when he let her go just as quickly, and looked down at his hands as if they had moved on their own.
“Never apologize,” he said. “Not for that. Not ever. You had every right to take his life.”
The layered irises of his eyes contracted and expanded, his enhanced donai vision assessing if he’d hurt her. She didn’t need the pair-bond to tell her that it was the same fear that was responsible for the distance he’d put between them, for why they’d shared none of the intimacies she craved. She could see it in his eyes, in the way he hesitated, the way he always stopped himself.
Anger rose up inside her. She wanted to rage at him, to beat her fists against his chest, to demand her due, but she couldn’t. Not again. She could not face the determined donai calm that would let her spend herself against him, let her pour her rage out, and then refuse to waver or yield in the face of her frustration.
“I’m not apologizing for killing him,” she said instead, and it came out without a tremor. “I’m not sorry he is dead. I sleep better at night knowing he is dead.”
Her nightmares were of a different sort. Her nightmares were ones where the emperor lived, where he continued to rape and torture her, where he went on to hurt those she loved. Where he used her child against her.
Darien searched her face and for a moment he looked like he might say something. He was keeping something from her, she was sure of it. Had been sure of it for weeks now.
She’d tried to coax it out of him before, screamed demands at him until her throat was raw, but it had only made him more determined in his silence.
They were both wounded. Her by the emperor. Him by the Cold. By what he saw as failure. She could not get him past his guilt for failing to protect her; for the loss of their first child; for what Kabrin had done to her.
Instead of sharing his pain, he would withdraw. He would leave Serigala to pursue enemies he could kill. He would have his men bloody him to the point where even his father, who’d had no issue with Darien proving just how donai he’d really become, had put a limit on it.
Darien’s hand strayed over the long cascade of chestnut curls falling around her shoulders. Usually she wore it up, twisted and pinned out of the way, but she hadn’t bothered after she’d given up on sleep. Gently, he lowered his face into it, tugging at its scent.
Her chest heaved, anticipation mixed with fear.
Darien pulled away, traced the arch of her brow. This time she did not flinch. Daring more, she leaned into his touch.
He went to one knee in front of her, rested his ear against her belly.
She placed her hand atop his head. At least they still had this. At least this time, their child had survived.
“Our son will be a uniting force,” she said. “He will save both humans and donai.”
This she believed with heart and soul. She needed it to be true, to make it all worthwhile. Darien’s father might see her unborn as a warchild—as an heir with all of the donai’s enhancements intact, a rarity on which donai survival depended—but she didn’t see it that way. She saw her unborn child as a savior, as that uniting force.
The barest thread of Serigalan dawn trickled along the seam of the horizon, adding a splash of newborn gold to the palace’s soaring walls, gilding the trees and grasses of the garden, making the flecks of green flare in the stone in front of them.
Darien stood. “I need to go.”
“No,” she whispered, despite the need flaring in her chest. “Stay.”
“I … can’t.” It came out edged with just enough humanity to make her believe that denying her was painful for him too. And then it faded, that guilt, that vulnerability, that ache, and he became so very … donai.
“I will return,” he said.
She curled her hands into fists. Nothing she had done or said for the last few weeks had mattered. Not tears, not begging, not bearing her soul. Nothing.
Tears pushed at her eyes.
“What are you going to do with this trophy?” she asked, turning the conversation to something that would not devolve into a public expression of her rage. She didn’t think she could bear the shame of such a display.
“It will probably be the first of many ‘gifts’ we will receive. It is customary to display them for all to see.”
Her gaze remained on the stone, the sigil. She did not want to look at him. She couldn’t bear it.
“My lady, is there something else you’d like to see done to it? With it?”
It was a lie. One that his donai enhancements could no doubt recognize, but he let it stand and retreated into the sunrise.
- The terms “Rhoans” and “Kappans” as well as “Rho-Kappa” are derived from the concept of r/K evolutionary biology ↩︎
- As it turns out, the Earth-Moon system is more of a double-planet than not, due to the large size of the Moon relative to the Earth, i.e. it’s about a quarter the size of the planet. If you look at all the other satellites in the Solar System, the satellites are much smaller. The Moon is tidally locked, but Kappa is not. Likewise, Kappa is not a barren world, hence the speculative element for our purposes. ↩︎