We Lie with Death


By Devin Madson

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"Visceral battles, complex politics, and fascinating worldbuilding bring Devin's words to life."―Anna Stephens, author of Godblind

War rages as one empire falls and another rises in its ashes in the action-packed sequel to Devin Madson's bold epic fantasy, We Ride the Storm.

There is no calm after the storm.

In Kisia's conquered north, former empress Miko Ts'ai is more determined than ever to save her empire. Yet, as her hunt for allies grows increasingly desperate, she may learn too late that power lies not in names but in people.

Dishiva e'Jaroven is fiercely loyal to the new Levanti emperor. Only he can lead them, but his next choice will challenge everything she wants to believe about her people's future.

Abandoned by his Second Swords, Rah e'Torin must learn to survive without a herd. But honor dictates he bring his warriors home-a path that could be his salvation or lead to his destruction.

And sold to the Witchdoctor, Cassandra Marius' desperate search for a cure ties her fate inextricably to Empress Hana and her true nature could condemn them both.

Get swept into the thrilling continuation of a bold and brutal epic fantasy series, perfect for readers of Mark Lawrence, John Gwynne, and Brian Staveley.

Praise for The Reborn Empire:

"Imaginative worldbuilding, a pace that builds perfectly to a heart-pounding finale and captivating characters. Highly recommended." —John Gwynne, author of The Shadow of the Gods

"A complex tale of war, politics, and lust for power." —The Guardian

The Reborn Empire
We Ride the Storm
We Lie with Death
We Cry for Blood

For more from Devin Madson, check out:

The Vengeance Trilogy
The Blood of Whisperers
The Gods of Vice
The Grave at Storm's End




For those readers who are coming to this book straight from the original self-published version of We Ride the Storm, please be aware that there were a few significant changes in the new edition, including the addition of more Levanti characters (Yiss en’Oht, Lashak e’Namalaka, and more) as well as more Levanti worldbuilding, extra chapters (two from Miko’s perspective—an introductory one and one of her at the battle of Risian—and one from Cassandra’s), some significant tweaks to the way Miko’s political arc worked, and perhaps most importantly, a shift in the way the relationship between Gideon and Rah was portrayed. This change in particular may leave a few things in this book feeling odd or undeserved, and I apologise for the confusion. Try to just roll with it.




Rah e’Torin—ousted captain of the Second Swords of Torin

Eska e’Torin—Rah’s second-in-command (deceased, Residing)

Kishava e’Torin—tracker (deceased)

Orun e’Torin—horse master (deceased, Residing)

Yitti e’Torin—healer

Jinso—Rah’s horse

Lok, Himi, and Istet—Swords of the Torin

Gideon e’Torin—First Sword of the Torin, now emperor of Levanti Kisia

Sett e’Torin—Gideon’s second and blood brother

Tep e’Torin—healer of the First Swords

Tor, Matsimelar, and Oshar e’Torin—the saddleboys chosen by Gideon to be translators

Nuru e’Torin—self-taught translator never used by the Chiltaens


Dishiva e’Jaroven—captain of the Third Swords of Jaroven

Keka e’Jaroven—Dishiva’s second, can’t talk. Chiltaens cut out his tongue.

Captain Atum e’Jaroven—captain of the First Swords of Jaroven

Loklan e’Jaroven—Dishiva’s horse master

Shenyah e’Jaroven—the only Jaroven Made in exile

Ptapha, Massama, Dendek, Anouke, Esi, Moshe e’Jaroven—Dishiva’s Swords

Other Levanti

Jass en’Occha—a Sword of the Occha

Captain Lashak e’Namalaka—First Sword of the Namalaka and Dishiva’s friend

Captain Yiss en’Oht—First Sword of the Oht, fiercely loyal to Gideon

Captain Taga en’Occha—First Sword of the Occha and Jass’s captain

Captain Menesor e’Qara—captain of the Second Swords of Qara

Jaesha e’Qara—Captain Menesor’s second

Senet en’Occha, Jakan e’Qara, Yafeu en’Injit, Baln en’Oht, Tafa en’Oht, and Kehta en’Oht—imperial guards

Nassus—Levanti god of death

Mona—Levanti goddess of justice


Miko Ts’ai—daughter of Empress Hana Ts’ai and Katashi Otako

Emperor Kin Ts’ai—the last emperor of Kisia (deceased)

Empress Hana Ts’ai—deposed empress of Kisia

Prince Tanaka Ts’ai—Miko’s twin brother (deceased)

Shishi—Miko’s dog

Jie Ts’ai—Emperor Kin’s illegitimate son

Lord Tashi Oyamada—Jie’s maternal grandfather and regent

General Kitado—commander of Miko’s Imperial Guard

Minister Ryo Manshin—minister of the left, chief commander of the Imperial Army

Lord Hiroto Bahain—duke of Syan

Edo Bahain—duke of Syan’s eldest son

Captain Nagai—one of the duke’s men

Lord Nishi (Lord Salt)—a wealthy Kisian lord who believes in the One True God


Cassandra Marius—Chiltaen whore and assassin

The hieromonk, Creos Villius—head of the One True God’s church

Leo Villius—only child of His Holiness the hieromonk

Captain Aeneas—the hieromonk’s head guard

Swiff—one of Captain Aeneas’s men


Torvash—the Witchdoctor

Mistress Saki—Torvash’s silent companion

Kocho—Torvash’s scribe and servant

Lechati—young man in Torvash’s service


Tensions are high between Imperial Kisia and neighbouring Chiltae. Raids along the border have increased the probability of yet another war, and in the hope of calming the situation a new treaty must be signed, sealed with a marriage between Leo Villius, son of the hieromonk of Chiltae, and Princess Miko Ts’ai. To challenge the emperor, Miko’s brother attacks Leo Villius as he crosses the border, but fails to kill him and is executed for treason.

Having the excuse they wanted to mount a full attack, the Chiltaens cross the border with an army supplemented with Levanti warriors from across the Eye Sea. Exiled from their homeland, Rah and his people have been forced into the service of the Chiltaens, though to fight the wars of others is against their tenets.

With the help of Cassandra, an assassin capable of reanimating the recently dead, the Chiltaens take the impenetrable city of Koi. Her contract is to kill Leo Villius for his father and she does so, only for Leo himself to return to claim his own head. For her failure, she is sold to the enigmatic Witchdoctor, the only man capable of removing the unwanted voice in her head.

After a failed challenge to wrest leadership of the Levanti from his one-time close friend Gideon e’Torin, Rah is made Leo’s bodyguard as the Chiltaen conquest continues south toward the Kisian capital. Intent on protecting it, Miko sides with the emperor against her mother, until he dies, leaving her to face the threat alone. After a tussle for supremacy with the emperor’s illegitimate child heir and his guardians, Miko crowns herself empress and rides out to meet the Chiltaens. They are unable to hold off the attack and the Chiltaens take the capital, only to be slaughtered when Gideon orders the Levanti to turn on their masters. Miko escapes before the carnage, and Rah, unable to accept the direction Gideon is leading them, is arrested.

1. RAH

Time does not pass in darkness. There are no days to count. No nights to sleep. In darkness you cease to exist as solitude wears your soul to a stub, but nothing could erode the truth in my heart. I was Levanti. A Torin. And this was not how a warrior of the plains died.

“Gideon!” I shouted, pressing my face to the bars. My voice bounced away into the darkness, returning no answer. “Gideon!”

I gripped the bars and, sucking a deep breath through parched lips, began to sing our lament. We sang it for loss. We sang it for pain. We sang it beneath the stars and the scorching summer sun. We sang it when weak and we sang it when strong, but more than anything we sang it when we were alone. Gideon had taught me the words, along with a clutch of other children released from chores at the end of a travelling day. We had sat at his feet, fighting to sit closest as though his worn, sweaty boots were a shrine at which to pray.

“But what does it mean?” one of the others had asked—a child whose face and name had been lost to the haze of time, leaving only gratitude that someone else had asked so I need not look foolish.

“It’s a prayer,” Gideon had said, smiling at the foolish one. “In lifting your voice to the gods you will never be alone, because they will see you. Will hear you. Will honour you.”

He had ruffled the girl’s hair and left us staring after him. He might have been the Torin’s youngest Sword, just a child to the warriors he served with, but he had been like a god to us. To me.

When I finished, the song echoed on, slowly fading into silence.

Gideon did not come.

I dozed to be woken by my aching gut. Mere minutes might have passed, or whole hours. All I knew was hunger and thirst and darkness. My legs shook as I got to my feet, and I could not but think of our walk south, whipped and starved and shamed by the Chiltaens—Chiltaens later slaughtered by Levanti blades. Had Gideon released their souls? Or burned them like animals, head and all?

“Gideon!” My voice cracked, thirst cutting like razors into my dry throat. “Gideon!”

No answer came and I paced the length of the small cell, touching each of its bars. Seventeen in all, each perfectly smooth, the six that made up the door slightly thicker than the rest. No light. No breeze. No life. Nothing but darkness, and like the gnawing in my gut, fear began to eat at my thoughts. Had I been forgotten?

“Gideon! Yitti!”

Only echoes answered.

I did not hear footsteps, yet when I next opened my eyes I was no longer alone. Bright light pierced the bars and I winced, shuffling back across the floor until my shoulder blades hit stone.

“Sorry. I didn’t think.”

With a metal scrape the light faded from noon-sun to gloaming.

“You look terrible.”

I laughed. Or tried to, but it came out as a wheeze and my stomach cramped. “You should have let me know you were coming so I could bathe,” I said, every word a dry rasp.

“At least being stuck down here hasn’t affected your sense of humour.” Sett’s customary scowl came into focus as my eyes adjusted. “I’m not sure if—”

“I want to see Gideon.”

The only answer was the tink tink of the metal lantern growing hot, magnified by the silence. I let the words hang until at last Sett cleared his throat. “You can’t.”

“He cannot refuse to see me. I am a Sword of the Levanti. Of the Torin. I am—”

“He isn’t here, Rah.”

I stared at Sett’s harsh features like they were lines of script containing answers. “What do you mean he isn’t here? He’s gone home?”

Sett’s explosive laugh echoed along the passage. “No, he hasn’t gone home. He’s an emperor now, but it’s not exactly safe here, is it? The Chiltaens broke the city’s defences, and why bother rebuilding them when your empire is north of the river, not south? This is enemy territory now.”


“No more questions, Rah. You are the one going home.” A key scraped in the lock, and with a grunt of effort, Sett unlocked the door.

Home. I had wanted nothing else since arriving, yet I did not move toward freedom.

Sett folded his arms as best he could while holding the lantern. “Really? After everything that’s happened, you’re still going to be a stubborn ass?”

“We don’t kill. We don’t steal. We don’t conquer.” I raised my voice over his complaints. “And the only way to remove someone from leadership of their Swords is through challenge or death. I am captain of the Second Swords of Torin until one of them challenges me for the responsibility.”

Sett growled, his fingers tightening upon the lantern’s handle. “Just go home, Rah. Go home.”

He turned then and, leaving the cell door wide open, started back along the passage. I followed the retreating light, my legs shaking. “Where are my Swords?”

“With Gideon,” Sett said, not stopping or slowing though I struggled to keep up, my feet dragging on the damp stone floor.

“What about Dishiva?”

“The same.”


Sett stopped, turning so suddenly he almost swung the lantern into my face. “The Chiltaen’s God boy? Dead. You saw him die. His condition hasn’t improved.” Sett sighed. “Don’t do anything stupid, Rah. I know that’s hard for you, but this is your chance to escape this place, to go home, because if you give him trouble again, Gideon won’t have a choice but to—”

“To what?” I said as he started walking again, his swaying lantern leading the way like a drunken star. “To kill me?” I hurried after him. “Is that the new Levanti way? To kill those who question decisions without challenge?”

Giving no answer, Sett started up a flight of stairs, each step a frustrated slam of boot on stone. I paused at the bottom to catch my breath, and nearly leapt from my skin as the fading light of Sett’s lantern lit the cell closest to the stairs. A man stood as close to the bars as he could get, staring at me, unblinking, in the manner of one committing my face to memory. I fought the urge to step back, to look away, glad of the bars between us. Untidy strands of hair hung around his dirty face, but through the shroud of neglect, familiarity nagged.

Sett’s footsteps had halted on the stairs.

“Who is this?” I said, not breaking from the man’s gaze.

“Minister Manshin,” came Sett’s reply from the stairwell. “The man who was sitting on the throne in the empress’s battle armour when we arrived.”

Minister Manshin, who had taken the empress’s place to trick her enemies, now stared at me through the bars of his cell. I wanted to assure him I had never sought Kisia’s ruin, that I was not his enemy, but I had fought with my people against his and no amount of words could change that. Words he wouldn’t even understand.

“Come on,” Sett grumbled, and as his footsteps resumed, the light bled from Minister Manshin’s face. I unpinned myself from his gaze and mounted the stairs.

Sett climbed slowly, yet still I could not keep up, increasingly breathless and aching as each step renewed my body’s demands for food and water and rest. Had pride and anger not kept me stiffly upright, I would have crawled on hands and knees.

When at last I reached the top, I steadied myself with a hand upon the rough-hewn stone and sucked deep, painful breaths. Sett’s footsteps continued on a way, only to stop and return when I didn’t follow.

“I’m sorry I left you down there so long,” he said, his face swimming before me. “I had no choice. You could only slip away unnoticed at night, and I had to wait for Gideon to leave.”

“He doesn’t know you’re doing this?” I’d had no time to wonder why it was Sett releasing me, but whatever his reason, his expression owned no kindness.

“There’s food upstairs so you can eat before you go,” he said. “And I’ve packed your saddlebags. Jinso is waiting in the yard.”

Jinso. I had hardly let myself hope I would see him again, let alone be allowed to ride free, but anger overtook relief on its way to my lips. “You’re smuggling me out of the city like an embarrassment.”

“You could say that, yes.”

“While Gideon isn’t here to stop you.”

He left a beat of silence, before asking, “Can you walk again? Food isn’t much farther.”

It seemed asking about Gideon was not allowed.

The inner palace had changed. Once bright and filled with dead soldiers, it lay blanketed now in silence and shadows, turning its finely carved pillars into twisted creatures that lurked in every corner. Light bloomed behind paper screens and whispers met the scuff of our steps, but we saw no living soul.

Sett led me to a small chamber on the ground floor where a pair of lanterns fought back the night. A spread of dishes covered a low table, but my gaze was drawn to a bowl of shimmering liquid, and not caring if it was water or wine, I poured it into my mouth. It burned my throat like a ball of fire and I dropped the bowl, coughing.

“Kisian wine,” Sett said over my coughs. “I think they make it from rice. Or maybe millet. There’s tea too, but don’t drink it so fast. It’s served hot.”

“Why?” I managed, my voice even more strained than before.

“I don’t know. When I find one that understands me, I’ll ask.”

“Is there water?”

Sett examined the table. “Doesn’t look like it. They aren’t keen on water. They think it’s dirty, and maybe it is here, I don’t know.” He shrugged, before adding in a sullen tone: “They don’t cook the whole animal either, at least not in the palace. Instead they”—he waved his hand at the table—“slice it up and ignore all the best parts. I saw one feeding liver to the dogs.”

Hunger and nausea warred in my stomach as I chose the most recognisable hunk of meat and bit into it. It was heavily spiced and drowned in a strange sauce, but hunger won and I crammed the rest into my mouth followed by another piece, and another. The sudden ingress of food made my stomach ache, but hunger kept me eating until I had filled its every corner.

While I ate and drank, trying not to slop the food down my already stained and stinking clothes, Sett stood by the door like a sentry. He didn’t speak, didn’t move, just stood with his arms folded staring at nothing, a notch cut between his brows.

Once my hunger had been crushed, nausea flared and I crossed my still-shaking arms over my gut. The sickly-sweet smell of the strange food clogged my nose and I sat back, hoping my stomach wouldn’t reject it.

Only when the nausea had subsided a little did I say, “You’re not really going to let me leave, are you?”

“You don’t think so? You think I had Jinso saddled for someone else?”

I grunted and got slowly to my feet, still clutching my stomach. “You’re really smuggling me out of the city in the middle of the night so no one sees me leave? What do you want people to think? That I’m dead? That you killed me?”

“I don’t want people to think of you at all. You’ve caused too much trouble, Rah. Now it’s time you listened. Leave Gideon alone. Leave Yitti alone. They’ve made their choices, as have the rest of the Swords who want a new home and a better life.”

“We already have a home.”

“Then go fight for it!”

Silence hung amid the shadowed screens, a silence choked with dust and spiced food and the lingering scent of incense. I could taste the ghosts of another’s life on every breath, an ever-present reminder of how far I was from the plains.

I eyed Sett. “Do I get my sword back?”

“And your knives if you want them. If you want a replacement for the sword you dropped in Tian, you’ll have to put up with a Kisian blade. Hardly a matched pair, but it’s all we have.”

I wanted a Kisian sword as little as I wanted to eat their food, live on their land, or conquer their cities, but I nodded and a strained smile spread Sett’s lips. “Come, we’ll get you some fresh clothes.”

We met no one on the way out, the inner palace like an empty tomb. The bodies might be gone, but broken screens and railings remained, and many doors were little more than apertures choked with tangled nests of wood and paper.

Stepping in through another door, Sett swung his lantern before him, revealing not an orderly room but a mess of weapons piled by type amid a sea of cloth and leather and chainmail vests.

“Most of it’s too small, but with a few cuts in the right places it’s wearable,” Sett said, sitting the lantern on a ransacked chest and picking up some green silk. “The Imperial Army uniforms weren’t too bad, but most of those have gone.”

I didn’t want to wear Kisian clothes, but my own leathers had seen more filth than I cared to think about. I had worn them into battle many times, and the cooling blood of many severed heads had dribbled down my knees. Here, despite the disorder, everything was clean and crisp.

Sett tossed me the silk robe and its threads caught on my rough skin as it slipped through my fingers. I let it fall, pooling on the floor like the shimmering green waters of Hemet Bay.

Once more Sett stood silent as I made my way around the room, sorting through the scattered garments. The breeches I chose were too tight, the tunic too long, the leather undercoat too thin, and the cloak too heavy. I needed clothes, but it all cut into my flesh in the wrong places and made my skin itch, and the closeness of the collar around my throat was like a choking hand. So many layers would boil one alive beneath the Levanti sun, but if the Kisian rains were half as bad as the Chiltaens believed then I’d be glad of them. The dreaded rains. If the Chiltaens had been less afraid of a little water, they might have noticed the coup brewing beneath their noses. Or not. I hadn’t.

I spread my arms, inviting Sett’s approval. “Well? How do I look?”

“Ridiculous. But clean. Now come on, it’ll be dawn soon.”

Having grabbed a replacement blade and bundled my own clothes into a bag, I once more followed Sett out into the inner palace’s silent shadows.

“Where is everyone?” I said, having to walk quickly to keep up.

“It’s the middle of the night. Where do you think they are?”

He stepped into the entry hall. Sett was a tall man, yet he shrank as the great height of the palace spire stretched away above him. His last words rose to the moonlit heights, and his steps echoed as he crossed toward the open doors. No, not open. Broken. The Chiltaens had smashed the main doors like so many others, leaving Leo to stride through as though they had been opened by the hand of his god.

A stab of guilt silenced further questions. I had sworn to protect him and failed. Just as I had sworn to protect my Swords. And my herd.

Sett stepped through the broken doors. Shallow stairs met us beyond, and but for the smothering night I might have been walking along the colonnade behind Leo once again.

“What happened to Leo’s body?”

Sett didn’t turn. “I don’t know.”

“How do you not know?”

“I didn’t ask.”

He sped up, striding along a colonnade choked with the scent of rotting flowers crushed beneath our feet. Beyond the tangle of vines the gardens spread away, while above the outer palace a shock of lightning lit the night sky. Inside had been airless and oppressive, but this was worse. Heat pressed in like a heavy hand, its damp touch sending sweat dripping down my forehead.

By the time Sett reached the outer palace I had to jog to catch up, an ache twinging my knees. “Sett—”

“Just walk, Rah, I have no more answers for you.”

Thunder rumbled as he hurried beneath a great arch.

“Where are the First Swords?”

Sett walked on, outstripping my cramping gait by half a length each step, leaving me to scramble after him along dark passages and through twisting courtyards. His urgency made his lantern swing sickeningly, its handle creaking as light rocked to and fro upon the walls. Not that Sett seemed to need it. He knew the way. Leo had known the way too.

I tightened my hold on the sack of dirty clothes and caught up. “Sett, tell me the truth,” I said. “What is going on?”

“Nothing. Look, just as I promised.” He gestured as we stepped once more into the night, the rush of his feet descending the outer stairs like the clatter of a rockfall.

Jinso waited in the courtyard, Tor e’Torin holding his reins. With Commander Brutus dead, the young man was as free as the rest of us, yet dark rings hung beneath his eyes and he stood tense.

“You were just supposed to give the instructions, not stay,” Sett said as he approached. “I need you inside to help with the messages. That scribe doesn’t understand half the words I say.”

“Sorry, Captain,” the young man said, pressing his fists together in salute. “I didn’t wish to leave Captain Rah’s horse alone with the weather so wild. He might have fretted.”

Sett grunted. “It’s not ‘Captain’ Rah anymore.”

I set my forehead to Jinso’s neck and tangled my fingers in his well-brushed mane, pretending not to hear the words that cut to my soul. Not a captain. The strange food in my stomach churned, bringing back the nausea.

In silence I checked Jinso over, more through habit than fear he had been poorly tended. Sett stood waiting, his scowl unchanged with each glance I risked his way. Tor remained too, shifting foot to foot. He licked his lips and pressed them into a smile when he found me watching, but the smile didn’t even convince his lips, let alone his eyes.

Thunder rumbled—distant, but threatening. The clouds crowding to blot out the stars made some sense of the Chiltaen fear.

My sword and knives had been stashed in one of the saddlebags—Kisian saddlebags I noted—and though I wondered what had happened to my own, I could not force the question out. It seemed to congeal inside my mouth, glued by the creeping sense that something was very wrong.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” I said, thrusting my sack of armour into one of the saddlebags and patting Jinso’s neck.

Sett laughed, the humourless sound sending a shiver through my skin. “Get on your horse, boy.”

I risked another glance at Tor, but the saddleboy stared at the stones. A fork of lightning lit his untidy length of black hair.


  • "With prose that rises above most novels, Devin Madson paints evocative scenes to build an engaging story. Highly entertaining, We Ride the Storm is certainly worth your attention and Madson is an exciting new author in fantasy."Mark Lawrence, author of Red Sister
  • "Intricate, compelling and vividly imagined, this is the first in a new quartet that I am hugely excited about. Visceral battles, complex politics and fascinating worldbuilding bring Devin's words to life."—Anna Stephens, author of Godblind on We Ride the Storm
  • "Fans of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series will appreciate the feudal political maneuvering, shifting alliances, and visceral descriptions of combat and its aftermath in this series starter."—Booklist on We Ride the Storm
  • "A complex tale of war, politics and lust for power."—The Guardian on We Ride the Storm
  • "An utterly arresting debut,Storm's heart is in its complex, fascinating characters, each trapped in ever tightening snarls of war, politics and magic. Madson's sharp, engaging prose hauls you through an engrossing story that will leave you wishing you'd set aside enough time to read this all in one sitting. One of the best new voices in fantasy."—Sam Hawke, author of City of Lies on We Ride the Storm
  • "Darkly devious and gripping epic fantasy boasting complex characters, brutal battle and deadly intrigue. We Ride the Storm is breathtaking, brilliant and bloody -it grips you hard and does not let go."—Cameron Johnston, author of The Traitor God
  • "A brutal, nonstop ride through an empire built upon violence and lies, a story as gripping as it is unpredictable. Never shying away from the consequences of the past nor its terrible realities, Madson balances characters you want to love with actions you want to hate while mixing in a delightful amount of magic, political intrigue, and lore. This is not a book you'll be able to put down."—K. A. Doore, author of The Perfect Assassin on We Ride the Storm
  • "Madson has built a living, breathing world of Empire and fury. We Ride The Stormgrabs you by the throat and doesn't let go."—Peter McLean, author of Priest of Bones

On Sale
Jan 12, 2021
Page Count
576 pages

Devin Madson

About the Author

Devin Madson is an Aurealis Award-winning fantasy author from Australia. After some sucky teenage years, she gave up reality and is now a dual-wielding rogue who works through every tiny side-quest and always ends up too over-powered for the final boss. Anything but zen, Devin subsists on tea and chocolate and so much fried zucchini she ought to have turned into one by now. Her fantasy novels come in all shades of grey and are populated with characters of questionable morals and a liking for witty banter.

Learn more about this author