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The Mine Series Book III
War has come to Saicean. With Orontes as King of the Oceanids, the threat to Saicean and its inhabitants has never been greater. The Oceanid army has laid siege to the underwater paradise, and Estelle Bailey once again finds herself trapped by Orontes’s hand. This time, within the walls of what should have been a safe place.
Tensions mount as supplies run short, and being the only female Sachael in a world dominated by desperate men leaves Estelle feeling vulnerable. Tired of having to live like a prisoner, even a well-treated one, Estelle decides to act. They need a weapon. And she can think of only one person who still has the means to kill Orontes and end the war—Michael.
With Azariah and Chanon in tow, Estelle flees their world, heading to the remote islands of the Faroes. But their mission to find Michael yields so much more than they expected. Faced with information that could change not only the war, but the course of all Sachael existence, the trio must make a choice: return to Saicean with Michael, or follow a lead that could change everything and pray they make it back in time to save their home.
Book Three of the Mine Series, Sachael Discovery layers new intrigues and betrayals into Estelle’s journey, escalating the stakes to levels as sweeping as the backdrop of beautiful locales.
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I drew in a deep breath. Kaimi was on one side of me, Azariah on the other. Together, we stood on the edge of the lake, beneath the light of Sirius, the moon royalty completed their submergence under. The lake, plants, flowers, even the three of us, were all subtly lit in its deep red glow. This had been my sixth submergence under Sirius since I arrived in Saicean. And though I wasn’t royalty, I was often treated as such.
Azariah had recovered from his terrifying ordeal with Orontes—well, as far as I could tell. It had taken a lot longer than the initial seven submergences under the seven different moons for him to convalesce. I could still remember all too clearly the bruised and battered man we rescued. He had been blind, paralyzed, and physically assaulted while held captive by Orontes. There’d been many times I’d thought he would never fully recover. But Azariah was now as strong a Sachael as he’d ever been—physically, at least.
Sirius’s full moon coincided with the full moon on land. Michael would have completed his seventh submergence tonight, the twenty-fifth of February. I kept a close eye on the date and seasons back on land. I worried about Michael, and had counted the days until he was a land Sachael, ready to swim to Saicean and complete his transformation. I refused to think him dead. He would have survived—it’s what he’d always done.
As the son of Azariah’s eldest brother, Menelaus, Michael would be the next ruler of Saicean—something Kaimi didn’t like to be reminded of. He’d dismissed Michael’s existence, ridiculed the idea that he could ever travel to Saicean to rule. But I hoped one day, and one day soon, we would be able to travel to the Faroes to find him—I had promised him just that.
Our sad and sudden departure from the beach in the Shetlands was still fresh in my mind. Though the events that unfolded for me when I left that beach had taken over, I could still recall the fear on Michael’s face as the Sachael left to guard him took him into the water and, hopefully, to safety. Was it guilt that spurred me to think we should find him? Or was it the closeness we’d had? The shared experience of Orontes’s captivity?
I shuddered, wishing every thought of Orontes away from my mind. He was the reason war now raged between the Sachaels and the Oceanids. A war that Orontes and the Oceanids were slowly winning. The ocean wasn’t safe for any Sachael. Lives were being lost, men injured, and all because Orontes desired to rule the oceans that flowed outside our world. I often wondered what he’d do if he managed to kill us all. Would he be happy then, or would he continue to attack the other five Sachael worlds? Would he use the venom bullets that assisted him and his men to eradicate every Sachael, to drive us all into extinction?
He’d once shown me what the bullets did, how they worked. But back then, the bullets needed to be held next to the skin, a deadly but primitive way to deliver the venom into the victim. Now, he had guns, weapons that could shoot the bullets without ever having to approach the intended target. Speed was our main weapon now. Speed and stealth. With the angle of attack needing to be unseen, we relied now on the element of surprise. A face-to-face attack, one on one, was ridiculously one-sided. We lost skilled members of Kaimi’s army every day. The hunters that provided food for the whole of Saicean no longer returned on a regular basis. And Kaimi was unable to offer a solution to the attacks. It was frustrating for all of us, and worse still—it showed no sign of slowing, never mind stopping.
“Daydreaming again?” Kaimi said as he leaned into my line of sight. A smile pulled at one side of his lips.
I frowned, not appreciating his humor. “No. I’m too busy worrying about how we’re going to survive if Orontes doesn’t stop these attacks.”
“And you think I’m not worried?”
I narrowed my eyes. His smirk only intensified.
“I never said that,” I responded. “I know you’re worried. I know you’re trying to think of a solution to it all. But like I’ve said before, the only way this will stop is if Orontes himself is stopped.”
“So, you want him killed? My, what a different outlook you have now that you’ve lived with us for several months. The Estelle I first met was strong and fierce, but she would never want anyone dead.”
“She killed Melia only a few weeks after her arrival,” Azariah said, halting my reply.
Kaimi rubbed his nose and dipped his head. “That was to save your life. This is different.” He turned away before either Azariah or I could respond and headed toward the entrance to the royal household. His guards fell into step behind him, keeping up with his demanding pace.
Azariah raised his eyes skyward, and I sighed.
“This time, it’s to save everyone’s lives,” I muttered.
Azariah stepped toward me and kissed the side of my head. “You know these nights are not the time to question my father. He is renewed by his submergence, reminded of his power as the leader of Saicean. No argument or disagreement will be won against him tonight.”
I rested my head on Azariah’s shoulder as we looked out over the expanse of the lake, and tried to think of a solution to end the battles. Unfortunately, I could see no end to the deaths and injuries until the man who orchestrated the attacks was removed from the equation.
No Orontes meant no attacks.
No attacks meant no more deaths.
And stopping the deaths was the only way Saicean would survive.
Azariah and I were in no rush to head back inside. As usual after our submergence, we stayed at the edge of the lake, bathing in Sirius’s vivid glow. Even now, all these months later, I still marveled at this beautiful world hidden deep in the Atlantic Ocean. I had heard of air pockets formed hundreds of thousands of years ago under the surface of the sea, but never imagined that they could exist like this. I let my vision drift to the “sky” above.
“I miss the stars,” Azariah whispered as he gazed up at the red sky. “There are so many stars in the world above us. So many stories surrounding them.”
“It’s strange that there are seven moons here, but no stars. Where are they?” I asked, returning my gaze upward.
“There are many stories about the lack of stars in our world. Some say the stars represent the females, and that is why we do not have any.” He smiled before looking at me, his expression serious. “There should be at least one star up there, though, now that you are here.”
I screwed my nose up and grinned. “I can’t see one. Can you?”
“All I see is you, Estelle. You know that. I have no need to look into the sky to see you.”
I smiled. I had become used to his intense words, but every so often, he still managed to catch me off guard. Our love had only grown stronger over the months, and ours wasn’t the only one.
“Is Chanon with Camarina?” I asked. My brother, the one man who’d stood by my side when I first arrived here, was not granted the same royal treatment bestowed upon me. Instead, he lived the life of a loyal palace guard.
Azariah nodded, his arm tightening around my waist.
A small smile graced the corner of my mouth. Camarina was the daughter of Hebrus, the late King of Mercivium. When Azariah and Chanon were young, they played together with Camarina and her brother, Axius. Friends at that time, Hebrus and Kaimi wanted only the best for both their kinds. Their good intentions resulted in a betrothal between Azariah and Camarina, but the forced relationship between them never worked. Camarina was attracted to another—Chanon. I had no idea how they kept their feelings hidden, and could only imagine how difficult it was for Chanon to see Camarina with Azariah. But a guard like Chanon had no claim on the daughter of a leader. The argument between Kaimi and Hebrus was caused by Camarina’s request to return to Mercivium—she didn’t love Azariah, and he didn’t love her. They were friends, and nothing more would ever come of their relationship. She was forced to return to Saicean with the other Oceanids who’d escaped Orontes’s invasion of Mercivium. And with Azariah now spoken for, she was free to give her heart to the man she had fallen in love with all those years ago—Chanon.
“I am glad they found each other,” Azariah said. “It should have happened many years ago. Sometimes, my father’s meddling causes more than a little upset.”
I released a small snort, agreeing with Azariah’s statement. But my moment of twisted humor was cut short. The lake gushed to life before us as several Sachaels broke the surface.
“The army, they are back!” Azariah exclaimed.
The returning men assisted each other through the shallow waters. Several of them staggered, while others carried limp, bloodied bodies.
“How many, Hektor?” Azariah shouted at the Sachael who led the group from the water.
“Two dead, three injured,” he said.
I stared at the group of men as they approached, but my attention switched to the water behind them when another group broke the surface: two of the entrance guards, shown by the deep red bands around their biceps, and between them, another man. His head was dipped, his chest covered in scars, and he had a deep open wound across his stomach. The guards held the top of the man’s arms, securing him in their grasp, as well as holding him up. One of the guards carried a dark object, its identity hidden by the tight hold he had on it.
“You caught one of the Oceanids?” Azariah asked, his gaze flicking to them.
“Nereus saw him moving,” Hektor said. “Everyone else had left him for dead. Seems he didn’t want to be discovered.”
“How injured is he?”
“Take him to the Hall. Kaimi will want to see him. Solon can assess his injuries—if Kaimi decides he should live.”
I winced at the viciousness in Azariah’s voice, but wasn’t surprised. This Oceanid was one of the many that had attacked us. If his injuries didn’t kill him, then surely Kaimi would. Azariah turned, taking my hand in his, and led the army to the entrance of the royal household.
The guards there dipped their heads as we approached, and stepped aside to allow us passage.
The flames of the sconces on the walls flickered as we rushed past them. Only when the passageway opened into the square receiving area—the room with the imposing doorway to Kaimi’s throne room—did Azariah stop and let go of my hand.
“How many ventured out this evening?” he asked, his attention on Hektor.
“Ten of us left. We have all returned, but two are dead, and three are injured.”
Azariah nodded, then turned to enter the Hall. I followed, but only after I had given the Oceanid another glance.
On the other side of the room, Azariah spoke with his father, hushed voices between them. Kaimi looked up and frowned when he saw me, but I lifted my chin and silently dared him to send me away. I’d been here before when the army returned, and I wanted to be here when he spoke to the Oceanid.
“Send them in!” Kaimi’s booming words echoed as the room’s guard duly opened the door.
The battle-weary guards we’d left in the receiving area shuffled into the room. Kaimi nodded at one of his other men, who quickly left. If I had to guess, he’d been sent to fetch Solon.
“So, what have we here? I send ten men out into the ocean, and yet only eight return alive. To add to this, you bring our enemy within our walls.”
Hektor, at the front of the group, dipped his head. “I thought the Oceanid may have valuable information. Something we could use.”
Kaimi’s brow rose for a moment, but then his features fell into a scowl. His fingers rapped on the arm of his chair for several tense seconds before he stood and descended the few steps between his throne and the guards keeping hold of the Oceanid. I circled the room, heading toward Azariah.
“Is he alive enough to talk?” Kaimi gripped the Oceanid’s chin and lifted his face. “If he cannot talk, then we may as well just slit his throat now. He’s of no use to me unless he has something to say.”
The Oceanid groaned, his breath a hushed whisper in an otherwise silent room. We all waited for Kaimi’s next move, for the decision that would either end or save the Oceanid’s life.
“You want to talk?” Kaimi bent lower, his face level with that of the enemy.
The man nodded, his chin still in Kaimi’s grasp.
“I beg,” he muttered. “I beg you to save me. I . . .” He broke into a hacking cough, but Kaimi didn’t back away.
“To save you? From what? From me?” Kaimi chuckled, then straightened to his full height. He let go of the man’s chin and wiped his hand against his black waistcoat, the intricate gold embroidery glinting as the fabric rumpled.
“From Orontes,” the man mumbled. Without the support of Kaimi’s hand, his head drooped until he was looking at the floor. Kaimi froze. The back of my neck prickled, and another cold shiver ran through me. Even the mention of his name, spoken on another’s lips, caused an involuntary reaction from my body.
“You want me to save you from Orontes? Why? Surely he will welcome you back into his army. Patch up your wounds and send you out again to kill my kind.”
“No, no . . . no. He will kill me. I’m only alive because I played dead. If he or his men had seen me, they would have finished my life with the . . . the bullets.”
“And what makes you think I am any different?” Kaimi said, approaching once more.
The Oceanid glanced in the direction of the dead Sachaels, the ones the others had brought back. They had been laid down at the side of the room, on one of the many rugs located there.
“You look after your men, even the dead and injured ones.”
“But you are not one of my men.”
The Oceanid grimaced and hugged his stomach. “I will give you information. I can help.”
Kaimi’s brow rose again. “You’d best start speaking, then.”
At that moment, the side door swung open and Solon rushed in. He carried his new black bag, an item returned from land by one of the Intelligents, the Factor of Sachaels that Kaimi allowed to live on land for an extended length of time in the name of research and the procurement of specialty items. I remembered the day the Intelligent arrived. He was one of the few who had managed to avoid injury on his journey back.
Kaimi waved his hand in the direction of the injured Sachaels. “And when you’ve seen to them, I might let you see to this one here.”
The Oceanid dropped to his knees. “Thank you. Thank you for saving me.”
“I’ve not saved you yet.”
Kaimi strolled back to his chair, grabbing an apple as he passed the table they were displayed upon.
He sat down and waited for the Oceanid to speak, toying with the apple in his hands.
Silence coursed through the Hall, all eyes on the Oceanid.
Finally, as if he only just realized he was the center of attention, that everyone in the room waited on him, the man took a shuddering, deep breath and spoke. “Most of the Oceanids want nothing to do with these battles, but he threatens us. He tells us he will kill our wives, our children, if we do not support him.”
Kaimi sniffed. “I opened my doors to the Oceanids who wanted nothing to do with Orontes and his army. They live among us now, with their true leader, Axius. I’m not impressed with your claim. You should have left when the others did.”
“We wanted to, but it wasn’t easy. Axius left quickly. Some of us were left behind.”
Kaimi took a bite from his apple and chewed noisily.
“If you release me into the ocean . . . if I am taken back to Mercivium, he will kill me . . . he’ll kill my family.”
“And what about your family? Do you not want to protect them from Orontes?”
“The best way to protect them is to let them think I am dead.” His head tipped downward again, his shoulders hunched.
Quiet throughout their exchange, I struggled not to interrupt. He’d not given us anything new. Only confirmed what an evil man Orontes was. We needed information that could help us defeat him. If Kaimi wasn’t going to ask it directly, then I would.
“Do you know what Orontes’s aim is?” I said. “Does he want to kill us all? Does he hate us so much that he wants us all dead?”
The Oceanid lifted his dirt-marked face in my direction.
“He wants to rule the oceans, and he’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. He has no heart, no feelings for anyone but himself.”
I huffed at his response. We already knew that.
“How does he plan his attacks? Are they random, or are they set for certain times during each day?”
The Oceanid shrugged. “He calls us together a short time before we attack. He expects us to be ready at any time.”
I frowned and ran over his words. “Does he always lead the attack? Does he ever send you out without his support?”
Azariah’s hand tightened on my shoulder.
“He always leads. He doesn’t trust us by ourselves. And he likes to boast about how many Sachaels he’s killed.”
Kaimi threw his apple to the side and glanced at me.
I answered his questioning glare with one of my own. “I told you we needed to get rid of Orontes. It’s the only way. If he leads the attacks, then what happens when he’s taken out of them? If we believe this man, then most of the Oceanids want this war no more than we do. We need to kill Orontes.”
Kaimi rubbed his moustache and stared at the floor in front of him.
“We found this lying next to him,” Hektor said, moving toward Kaimi with the object I’d caught a brief glimpse of at the lake.
Azariah and I stepped forward, eager to see what they’d found.
“Unbelievable,” Kaimi gasped as he took the object. “It’s one of the guns.”
“Are there bullets in it?” Azariah asked as Kaimi inspected the gun.
Kaimi lifted his head and focused on the Oceanid. “Come here. Show me how this works. Are there bullets in it?”
The Oceanid stumbled forward, no support offered by the entrance guards who’d brought him here.
“He needs medical attention,” I said quietly to Kaimi. “If you’re going to spare his life, then he needs to be seen to. His wound looks nasty.”
Kaimi nodded. “All in good time, Estelle.”
The Oceanid lifted his hand, palm out, for the gun. Kaimi stood and descended the steps separating him from where the man stood. He narrowed his eyes for a moment, appraising the Oceanid. Finally, he handed the gun over.
“Father?” Azariah said.
Kaimi smirked, then addressed the Oceanid. “You turn that on me, and you’ll be dead within moments.”
The Oceanid offered a weak smile as he released the barrel of the gun. He held it toward Kaimi and showed him where the bullets would have been if it had held any.
“It holds four bullets,” I said, counting the empty spaces in the barrel.
“Enough to kill two Sachaels,” Kaimi said, taking the gun back. “Did you kill any of my men?”
The Oceanid dropped his gaze and remained silent.
Kaimi sighed, then walked back to his chair. “What is your name? We should become a little more acquainted before I decide whether or not to kill you.”
Kaimi nodded. His eyes never left the Oceanid in front of him.
While we waited for Kaimi to issue his decision on whether or not Nilus should be spared, a loud commotion sounded outside the room. Men shouted, voices echoed with agitation, but it was only when Chanon entered the room that I understood who it was that had arrived.
“Kaimi,” Chanon said, bowing, “Pelias requests an urgent talk with you. He’s not happy.”
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