The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty

PROLOGUE



MANIZHEH


Behind the battlements of the palace that had always been hers, Banu Manizheh e-Nahid gazed at her family’s city.

Bathed in starlight, Daevabad was beautiful—the jagged lines of towers and minarets, domes and pyramids—astonishing from this height, like a jumble of jeweled toys. Beyond the sliver of white beach, the dappled lake shimmered with movement against the black embrace of mountains.

She spread her hands on the stone parapet. This was not a view Manizheh had been permitted while a prisoner of the Qahtanis. Even as a child, her defiance had made them uneasy; the palace magic’s public embrace of the young Nahid prodigy and her obvious talent curbing her life before she was old enough to realize the guards that surrounded her day and night weren’t for her protection. The only other time she’d been up here had been as Ghassan’s guest—a trip he’d arranged shortly after he became king. Manizheh could still remember how he’d taken her hand as they’d gazed at the city their families had killed each other for, speaking dreamy words about uniting their peoples and putting the past behind them. About how he’d loved her since they were children, and about how sad and helpless he’d felt all those times his father had beaten and terrorized her and her brother. Surely she must have understood that Ghassan had had no choice but to stay silent.

In her mind’s eye, Manizheh could still see his face that night, the moon shining upon his hopeful expression. They’d been younger; he’d been handsome. Charming. What a match, people would have said. Who wouldn’t want to be the beloved queen of a powerful djinn king? And indeed, she’d laced her fingers between his and smiled—for she still wore such an expression in those days—her eyes locked on the mark of Suleiman’s seal, new upon his face.

And then she’d closed off his throat.

It hadn’t lasted. Ghassan had been quicker with the seal than she’d anticipated, and as her powers fell away, so did the pressure on his throat. He’d been enraged, his face red with betrayal and lack of air, and Manizheh remembered thinking that he would hit her. That he’d do worse. That it wouldn’t matter if she screamed—for he was king now and no one would cross him.

But Ghassan hadn’t done that. He hadn’t needed to. Manizheh had gone for his heart and so Ghassan did the same with ruthless effectiveness: having Rustam beaten within a hair of his life as she was forced to watch, breaking her brother’s bones, letting them heal and then doing it again, torturing him until Rustam was a howling mess and Manizheh had fallen to her knees, begging Ghassan for mercy.

When he finally granted it, he’d been even angrier at her tears than he’d been at her initial refusal. I wanted things to be different between us, he’d said accusingly. You shouldn’t have humiliated me.

She took in a sharp breath at the memory. He’s dead, she reminded herself. Manizheh had stared at Ghassan’s bloody corpse, committing the sight to memory, trying to assure herself that her tormentor was truly gone. But she wouldn’t have him burned, not yet. She intended to examine his body further, hoping for clues as to how he’d possessed Suleiman’s seal. Manizheh hadn’t missed that his heart had been removed—carved from his chest with surgical precision and making it clear who’d done the removing. Part of her was grateful. Despite what she’d told Nahri, Manizheh knew almost nothing about how the seal ring was passed to another.

And now, because of Nahri, Manizheh knew the first step after finding them would be to cut out the heart of Nahri’s djinn prince.

Manizheh returned her gaze to the city. It was startlingly quiet, adding an eerie facade to the entire experience. Daevabad might have been a kingdom at peace in the dead of night, safe and still under the helm of its rightful guardians.

A lie a distant wail betrayed. The cries were otherwise fading, the violence of the night giving way to sheer shock and terror. Frightened people—hunted people—didn’t scream. They hid, hunkering down with their loved ones in whatever shelter they could find, praying the darkness might pass them by. Everyone in Daevabad knew what happened when cities fell. They were raised on stories of vengeance and their enemy’s rapacity; depending on their roots, they were told hair-raising tales of Zaydi al Qahtani’s violent conquest of Daevabad, Darayavahoush e-Afshin’s scourging of Qui-zi, or the innumerable sacks of human cities. No, there wouldn’t be screaming. Daevabad’s people would be hiding, weeping silently as they clutched their children close, the sudden loss of their magic only one more tragedy this night.