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Jim Butcher

Princeps' Fury

Jim Butcher Princeps' Fury
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Series:

Codex Alera

Excerpt from book:

Prologue

"This way, my lord!" screamed the young Knight Aeris, beckoning as he altered the direction of his windstream and dived through the twilight sky. He was bleeding from a wound in the neck, where one of the razor-sharp shards of ice the creatures hurled like javelins had slipped beneath the rim of his helmet. The young fool was fortunate to be alive, and neck wounds were notoriously treacherous. If he didn't stop flailing about and have it attended to, it might tear wider and cost the Legion an irreplaceable asset.

High Lord Antillus Raucus adjusted his own windstream to match the young Knight's dive and followed him down toward the embattled Third Antillan Legion upon the Shieldwall. "You!" he snarled, passing the young Knight without particular effort by his own, far-stronger furies. What was the idiot's name? Marius? Karius? Carlus, that was it. "Sir Carlus, get to the healers. Now."

Carlus's eyes went wide with shock as Raucus shot ahead, leaving the younger man behind as if he had been hovering in place instead of power diving for the earth at his most reckless speed. Raucus heard him say, "Yes, my l— But the rest of the word vanished into the gale roar of the High Lord's windcrafted wake.

Raucus bid his furies to enhance his sight, and the scene below him sprang into magnified vision. He assessed the Legion's situation as he swept down upon them. Raucus spat out an oath. His captain had been right to send for aid.

The Third Antillan's situation was desperate.

Raucus had cut his teeth in battle at fourteen years of age. In the forty years since, scarcely a month had passed in which he had not seen action of one scale or another, defending the Shieldwall against the constant menace of the primitive Icemen of the north.

In all that time, he had never, not once, seen so many of them.

A sea of the savages spread out from the Shieldwall, tens of thousands strong, and as Raucus dived closer, he was suddenly enveloped by a chill far deeper than the mere bite of winter. Within seconds, crystalline laceworks of frost had formed across the surface of his armor, and he had to begin the familiar effort of low-grade firecrafting to ward away the cold.

The enemy had built mounds of snow and corpses against the Shieldwall, piling them into ramps. It was a tactic he had seen before, in the most determined assaults. The Legion had responded with their usual doctrine—burning oil and blasts of fire from their Knights Ignus.

The wall itself was very nearly a feature of the land, a massive edifice of granite furycrafted from the bones of the earth, fifty feet tall and twice as thick. It must have cost the Icemen thousands of lives to mount those ramps, to see them melted down, and to mount them again, and again, and again—but they had done it. The cold had lasted long enough to sap the legionares of their strength, and the battle had raged long enough to wear the Third's Knights down, until they could no longer sustain the effort needed to keep the foe at bay.

The Icemen had gained the wall itself.

Raucus felt his teeth clench in frustration and rage as the apelike creatures swarmed over the breach in the defenses. The largest of the brutes was as tall as an Aleran legionare, but far broader across the shoulders, far thicker through the chest. Their arms were long, with enormous hands, and their leathery hides were layered with a sparse coating of wiry, yellow-white fur that could make them all but invisible in the frozen wastes of the north. Yellow-white eyes glared from beneath shaggy brows, and a pair of heavy tusks jutted up from massively muscled jaws. Each Iceman bore a club of bone or stone in his hands, some of them edged with chips of sharp, unnaturally hard ice that, like the cold of the winter itself, seemed to bend itself to the will of the savages.

The legionares rallied behind the crested helmet of a centurion, struggling to push forward and seal the breach—but the furycraftings that were supposed to keep the top of the wall clear of ice were failing, and their footing had become treacherous. Their foe, more at home on the slippery surface, began to drive the Legion back into a pair of separate, vulnerable elements, as more and more of their kind surged onto the wall.

The yellow-eyed sons of crows were killing his men.

The Third Antillan had minutes of life left in it, and after that, the Icemen would be through them, and that horde would be free to ravage the lands beyond. There were a dozen steadholts and three small towns within a few hours' march for the horde, and though the militia of every town along the Shieldwall was well maintained and diligent in its continued training—Raucus would permit nothing less—against such an enormous number of the foe, they would be able to do nothing but die in a futile effort to allow their women and children time to flee.

He wouldn't allow it to happen. Not to his people. Not to his lands.

Antillus Raucus, High Lord of Antillus, let the rage boil up inside him in a white-hot fire as he swept his sword from its sheath at his side. He opened his mouth in a wordless roar of pure wrath, bellowing to his furies, calling out to the land around him, to his land, which for a lifetime he had fought to defend, as had his father, and his father, and his father before him.

The Aleran High Lord screamed his outrage to the land and the sky.

And the land and the sky gave answer.

The clear twilight air boiled and blackened with storm clouds, and dark streamers of mist followed him in a spiral as he dived. Thunder magnified the High Lord's battle cry tens of thousands of times over. Raucus felt his rage flow into the sword in his hand, and the blade burst into scarlet flame, burning through the cold air in a sizzling hiss, lighting the sky around him as if the sun had suddenly risen back above the horizon.

Light fell onto the desperate legionares, and faces began to turn skyward. A sudden roar of hope and wild excitement rose from the Legion, and lines that had begun to buckle abruptly locked into place again, shields binding together, firming, holding.

It took a few seconds more before the first of the Icemen began to look up, and only then, as Raucus readied himself to enter the fray, did the High Lord unleash the furies of his skies against the foe.

Lightning came down from the sky in threads so tiny and numerous that more than anything, they resembled burning rain. Blue-white bolts raked the Icemen on the ground below the shield, killing and burning, sending Icemen into screaming confusion—and suddenly choking the pressure of their advance onto the wall.

Raucus flung his sword's point down as he closed on the exact center of the Icemen's position atop the wall, and called fire from the burning blade, sending out a white-hot column of flame that charred flesh to ash and blackened bone in a circle fifteen feet across. At the last second, he called upon his wind furies to slow him, landed hard upon the unyielding stone of the wall—now cleared of the treacherous ice.

Raucus called strength up from the earth, shattered two hurled clubs with sweeps of his burning blade, swept a wave of fire over a hundred of the foe between himself and the southern side of the wall, then began grimly hacking his way northward. The Icemen were no fools. They knew that even the mightiest furycrafter could be felled if enough spears and arrows and clubs were thrown at them—and Raucus knew it, too.

But before the shocked Icemen could coordinate their attacks, the High

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