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Illusionary

Zoraida Cordova




  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2021 by Glasstown Entertainment

  Map illustration by Karl Vesterberg

  Cover art copyright © 2021 by Billelis. Cover design by Marci Senders and Karina Granda.

  Cover copyright © 2021 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our culture.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  Little, Brown and Company

  Hachette Book Group

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  First Edition: May 2021

  Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Córdova, Zoraida, author.

  Title: Illusionary / Zoraida Córdova.

  Description: First edition. | New York ; Boston : Little, Brown and Company, 2021. | Series: Hollow crown ; [2] | Audience: Ages 14 & up. | Summary: “Renata and her enemy Prince Castian must team up to find the fabled Knife of Memory and bring peace to the kingdom of Puerto Leones.”—Provided by publisher.

  Identifiers: LCCN 2020036603 | ISBN 9780759556034 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780759557871 (ebook)

  Subjects: CYAC: Fantasy. | Princes—Fiction. | Memory—Fiction.

  Classification: LCC PZ7.C8153573 Ill 2021 | DDC [Fic]—dc23

  LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020036603

  ISBNs: 978-0-7595-5603-4 (hardcover), 978-0-7595-5787-1 (ebook)

  E3-20210403-JV-NF-ORI

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Map

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  Discover More

  About the Author

  By Zoraida Córdova

  FOR MYSELF

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  WANTED

  RENATA CONVIDA

  FOR CRIMES AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF PUERTO LEONES, MURDER, COLLUSION, AND THE ILLEGAL USE OF ROBÁRI MAGICS. LAST SEEN ON THE CAMINO MAYOR LEAVING ANDALUCÍA WITH THE DISSIDENT REBEL WHISPERS. CONSIDERED ARMED AND LETHAL. GOOD CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM HARBORING RENATA CONVIDA OR ANY MORIA MUST REPORT TO THE SECOND SWEEP IN EXCHANGE FOR A 10,000-PESO REWARD.

  APPROVED BY JUSTICE ALESSANDRO

  KINGDOM OF PUERTO LEONES

  YEAR 40 OF HIS MAJESTY KING FERNANDO’S REIGN

  317 A.C. OF THE THIRD AGE OF ANDALUCÍA

  Song of the Moria Queen

  I’ll sing you the song

  of the Moria Queen.

  Lost to the oceans

  and lost twice to me,

  but I remember her

  in my dreams.

  I’ll sing you the song

  of the Moria Queen.

  Her heart was aglow

  with a thousand stars.

  Her smile had me bend

  at the knee.

  I’ll sing you the song

  of the Moria Queen.

  I’ll find her once more

  in the hollow of night,

  in the after, the gone,

  in the salt of the brine.

  I’ll sing you the song

  of the Moria Queen.

  I’ll sing you the song.

  PROLOGUE

  317 A.C.

  AS FERNANDO, KING OF PUERTO LEONES, KEEPER OF THE PEACE, AND TRUE heir of the Fajardo dynasty, watched the young soldier drown, he realized that there was something very wrong in his kingdom. Not only had he been forced to repeat his questions, but when faced with His Majesty’s wrath, the boy would not give satisfactory answers.

  While most people thought Fernando cruel for the sake of cruelty, he always learned the name of those he executed. At the time of death, he would speak the name of the deceased so that they would have no reason to utter his once they ventured into the afterlife.

  The drowning boy’s name was Delios Urbano. Seventeen and a recent military draft, with no family left to bear his shame. His crimes were simple. His negligence had aided the Moria insurgents who disrupted the Sun Festival with an attempt on the king’s life. Between gasps for air, Delios begged for forgiveness but still could not explain why he had abandoned his post.

  The morning after the Sun Festival, after Justice Méndez had been attacked, after the rebels had escaped, and after the dungeon had been emptied of prisoners, Delios Urbano had been found in one of the palace courtyards, reeking of his own filth and stale liquor. He would have remained in the dungeons, but after nearly a fortnight of dead ends and failure to crush the rebels, King Fernando had had enough. If he couldn’t have answers, he’d settle for blood.

  “Please,” the boy sputtered.

  King Fernando brushed a cold droplet of water from his cheek. He ushered the guard aside and plunged Delios’s head back into the barrel. The boy’s scream turned into a gurgle. And then, with a final tremble, he was still. He had failed his kingdom for the last time.

  “Delios Urbano, may the Father of Worlds forgive your crimes,” Fernando said.

  Then two of his youngest but most loyal personal guards unceremoniously dragged the body out of the room, where it was deposited on a cart with the others, ready to be delivered to the apothecura’s study for research.

  “It is done, Your Majesty,” Analiya assured, then offered him a handkerchief.

  Fernando dried his hands, his eyes drawn to the blood staining the stone floor and walls. This was the place where Justice Méndez had been found, alive, but barely. King Fernando understood the message quite well. In a single night, his enemies had nearly destroyed everything he had labored to build. In the days that followed, he’d refilled the dungeons, interviewed every single subject in the palace. It hadn’t changed a thing. His weapon was in the wind. Méndez was far gone. The prince taken. And no one could explain to the king how it had all happened. He was surrounded by traitors and fools. Fury burned through his ve
ins, igniting the hate that always simmered in his heart.

  When he turned around, he nearly stumbled on a set of iron manacles.

  Analiya picked them up and presented them to the king. The metal was warped, as if it had been melted while being worn.

  “What could do such a thing?” Nazar asked, then reached for the string of wooden prayer beads tucked under his black uniform.

  Not what. Who? Renata Convida. The Robári who had saved his life, and then revealed the viper that she was.

  Fernando threw the manacles against the wall. Cracked a chair in half. Kicked the barrel onto its side. The water that held the last breath of half a dozen men washed away the blood of others. He panted hard and fast, blinking until his sight was clear. “Seal this room. I want to see him.”

  Analiya led the way out of the putrid mazelike tunnels. Unlike Nazar, she did not flinch at the human waste that was caked to the muddy dungeon steps. A pity he’d never had a daughter like her.

  They reached the end of a corridor that emptied onto the courtyards between the palace and the cathedral. King Fernando inhaled deeply in the flickering torchlight. Incense and stale aguadulce clung to the air even as they made for Justice Méndez’s bedchamber.

  “Your Excellency.” Analiya spoke firmly. “You should not have to see this.”

  “Oh,” Fernando said, “but I do.”

  Justice Méndez was as close to a friend as he had ever had. They were going to reshape the known world. Harness the unnatural magics of their enemies so that Puerto Leones could roar into a new age. He’d sacrificed everything for it. But the Father of Worlds demanded more and more. Now it was up to Fernando to finish what he’d started nearly four decades ago.

  He entered the dimly lit chamber. Justice Méndez sat on the edge of his bed. His gray eyes gaped at nothing. His skin had the texture of crumpled parchment. He’d been bathed and brought to his rooms for comfort. The apothecuras had tried everything, despite knowing that there was no cure for this ailment. Someone had placed the Bible of Worlds in his hands, in fleeting hope that it would jog the devout man out of his sickness. But Méndez was experiencing far worse than a sickness. He was a Hollow, empty of memory and mind. Alive in body alone.

  King Fernando had seen the work of Robári before. This particular strain of the Moria disease drained memories. Someone had tried to explain it once, how their cursed Lady of Shadows had given these Moria the ability to steal memories by imbuing the Robári with her own lifeblood. Both king and justice had believed they could look beyond subduing the monstrous magics and instead wield them for the good of the land. They had been so close.

  “Is there nothing that can be done?” Analiya asked.

  “The body in this state will not eat or sleep or speak,” he said. “It will simply fade. A fate worse than death, they call the Hollows. I’ve already let him suffer too long. I must give him mercy.”

  King Fernando unsheathed a dagger hidden inside the breast of his black doublet. The hilt was encrusted with sapphires. An engagement gift from the first woman he’d made the mistake of loving. He did not know why he carried it so close when he had wanted nothing more than to forget her. Heavens knew he’d tried. The rest of the world already had. Perhaps it was the chaos of the day, but he thought of her, the queen that never was. As quickly as it had arrived, he swallowed the sentiment away.

  Fernando pulled Méndez to his feet and into an embrace. The frail body was cold even through his tunic.

  “I will avenge you, old friend. I swear it.”

  Then the king of Puerto Leones stepped back and drove the blade across Justice Méndez’s tender throat. Arterial blood sprayed his face, his clothes, the linens. Méndez released a long, gargled breath. King Fernando did not clean his blade before sheathing it, and he did not wait for his guards before leaving the room.

  “Make the arrangements for the funeral. Spread the word to every citadela, every village, every forsaken hamlet and hovel on the pilgrimage roads, that Justice Méndez has been murdered by the rebel Whispers.” He handed Nazar a slip of parchment with a list of names. “Assemble these people in my chambers.”

  “Your chambers?” Nazar asked, confused. Then, as if realizing his mistake in questioning the king, he stammered, “Right away, Your Majesty.”

  King Fernando stopped on the exposed walkway that bridged two of the palace towers. The blue mosaic pillars glinted in the moonlight. “I have a special request for you, Analiya.”

  “I am your servant, my king.”

  He handed her an envelope stamped with his seal. “Be sure this invitation is delivered. I want you to escort her back yourself.”

  Analiya bowed, snapped her boots together. “Yes, my king.”

  Fernando returned to his wing. He had to prepare for his guests and a mystery he’d been unraveling since the night of the attack. He’d been betrayed yet again. And this time, everyone would see what happened to traitors.

  The fireplace roared. Ten crystal goblets brimmed with wine, but no one drank. The bottle chilled in a silver bin, and condensation rolled down the glass almost as quickly as the sweat that poured from each person assembled around King Fernando’s parlor. It was rumored he never had guests in his apartments, not unless it was a concubine or his wife. In attendance was everyone he’d summoned. All except one.

  There was the justice, Alessandro. Perhaps it was because Méndez’s blood was still dried on his skin like a dusting of freckles, but the sight of Alessandro made the king’s upper lip sneer. The justice’s new robes were cut too wide at his weak shoulders. To his left was his wife, Lady Nuria, Duquesa of Tresoros. She was, perhaps, the only person in the room not sweating, though her dark eyes roamed the tapestries and the elite members sharing the table, then Nazar and General Hector guarding the door.

  King Fernando had uttered only “Please remain seated” before taking his place at the head of the table. He wanted them to sweat. Wanted their own anxieties to crack them apart wondering why they had been called here, of all places, during a time of unrest.

  The young Duque Arias cleared his throat and tugged his cravat loose. Lady Roca fanned herself. The royal priest’s ninety-year-old eyelids fluttered closed. Duque Sól Abene tugged at his black beard. Fernando’s beautiful queen picked at the lace of her bodice, pouting full lips. These affairs were not for her, but she needed to see. He needed her to tell every one of her maidens, her confidants, her secret keepers, both in Puerto Leones and in her home country of Dauphinique across the sea, about this meeting. He wanted everyone to know what happened in this room.

  “Are we waiting for someone, Your Majesty?” Alessandro motioned to the empty seat. When the king said nothing, the justice pressed. “And why is Leonardo here? He is but a servant.”

  Nuria rested her delicate hand on her chest. The sienna-brown skin there was unblemished. King Fernando noticed the way her eye twitched at the sound of her husband’s voice. The attendant in question, Leonardo, gave his mistress a shake of his head.

  The heavy tread of boots echoed in the halls, and everyone turned to the door.

  Analiya entered, bowing to her king before making way for a young woman. The foreigner swept into the room with her head held high. She was dressed in fine green silk trousers embroidered in shimmering beads and threads. Her doublet had a high collar and tails, with tapered sleeves. Thin gold bands decorated her fingers and slender neck. She had the bronze skin, high cheekbones, and thick black hair common to the people in Empirio Luzou. Although the green of her eyes was more akin to the eastern regions of Puerto Leones. Like her father.

  “Lady Las Rosas,” King Fernando said, half-amused. “Thank you for answering my invitation.”

  She gripped her hands at her back, like someone who would never stop being a soldier. But though she stood there, she did not bow. The king watched the way the elite families of Puerto Leones reacted to her title. The distraction was exactly what he’d hoped for.

  “You are too kind, Your Majesty,” the gi
rl said, her full mouth tugging into a false smile. “But I am no lady, as I cannot inherit my father’s title.”

  Fernando ignored the girl’s barb and gestured to the empty seat to his left. “Sit.”

  Lady Las Rosas did as she was told.

  “Have you been enjoying your return to your father’s nation, Lady Las Rosas?”

  A muscle tensed at her square jaw. “At the court of Empirio Luzou we allow for less formality. It’s Leyre. Your Highness.”

  “But we aren’t in Luzou, are we? And because of the circumstance, you are by every right half-Leonesse. Before his recent trial for treason, your father amended his will, naming you the sole heir to his lands and trading company.”

  The lords and ladies in attendance perked up at this news. Duque Arias eyed the girl’s pretty mouth, her eyes made sultry by dark green powder dusted on her lids.

  Leyre Las Rosas must have had excellent training because her shock, if she’d felt any, didn’t register on her face. She picked up her goblet but, realizing no one else was drinking, set it back down.

  “This was news to me, as my father has been in your dungeons for weeks,” she said.

  Fernando ignored the resentment in her words. When she first arrived at the palace, the memory thief was to turn the traitor Las Rosas into a Hollow in front of the entire court. But Renata’s power failed. Another likely deception, no doubt. The king gripped the arm of his chair and let the memory pass.

  “How very fortunate for your father that his executioner escaped this very palace the night of the Sun Festival,” he said. “I have transferred Lord Las Rosas to Soledad prison. In the meantime you will take up his seat in this gathering. Now, I need every person here to help me solve a mystery.”

  The room was quiet enough to hear a fly buzz before landing on the lip of Alessandro’s wine.

  “How did the great palace of Andalucía, the jeweled capital of this kingdom, allow itself to be attacked by a handful of half-starved rebels?”