‘The Lioness and the Rat Queen’ excerpt: Belona remembers the worst night of her life

This exclusive The Lioness and the Rat Queen excerpt will have you more excited than ever to pick up the sequel to Noah Lemelson’s The Sightless City.

If you haven’t heard of the Slickdust Trilogy by Noah Lemelson, all of that is about to change. The first book in the series is called The Sightless City, and it follows a private investigator named Marcel Talwar as he takes on a new case that points to someone in his inner circle who’s using him as a pawn in a plot that could lead to genocide.

As you can imagine, that wasn’t a great day for Marcel, and The Lioness and the Rat Queen promises to continue the tradition of putting him through the ringer. If you haven’t read the first book yet, I have to warn you—there are spoilers ahead!

However, if you’re ready for the Sightless City sequel, then be sure to check out the official synopsis below, along with an exclusive The Lioness and the Rat Queen excerpt. At the bottom, you’ll find links to order the new book or add it to your Goodreads TBR list. Enjoy!

About ‘The Lioness and the Rat Queen’

A city burning…

A murderous tycoon on the run…

And three vigilantes out for revenge…

Marcel never thought his investigations would lead to this; his once-friend Lazarus Roache turned slaver and cruel puppet master. For the good of Huile, and to salve his conscience, Marcel must take Roache down, even if that means following him into the desolate and savage reaches of the Wastes.

Yet the tycoon is not the only Wastefolk with a past with Marcel. To find the tycoon, Marcel must break hardtack with an old enemy, a disgraced imperial general who he had once tried to kill, and is more than eager to return the favor. Yet she is not the greatest threat in the Wastes, for there is also a bounty hunter on his trail, the mysterious Queen of Rats, who seems to somehow know Marcel’s every dark secret.

lioness and the rat queen excerpt

‘The Lioness and the Rat Queen’ excerpt

A spark flash from the bronze doorknob. “Done!” the engineer said, as the heavy wooden door creaked open. Soldiers pushed through, handtorch beams cutting through the dark. Belona stepped forward and flicked on the light. Ætherlamps buzzed into life, revealing pristine brick walls, brass filigree fixtures, a luxurious El’Helmaudi rug covered in flowers and canid chamroshes, and at the end, by the far doorway, the body of a Principate soldier, splayed and bloodstained.

The squad fanned out, as Belona rushed forward to check the body. Dead and cold, face white, chest a mass of minced viscera that not even a point-blank scattergun shot could produce.

“What in the Imperator’s name…?” Krimme said.

Belona glanced down the hallway. Empty, the far rusted door hanging open. She had toured this building before, there was a stairwell there down into the depths of the refineries, down into the underway, that dismal maze of basements, sewers, pipeworks, and pathways.

She pulled out a pistol. “Major! Take your squad underground and figure out where the man has fled to. You two, follow me.”

With not a moment’s hesitation Krimme led his soldiers into the dark, down the hallway, and then into the depths below. With two soldiers serving as backup, Private Ivanov and Private Rimkus, Belona took it upon herself to search the upper floors.

The main stairway was an overly grand thing, all imported Vidish wood, with gilded lamplights and faded portraits of ancient who-knows- who on the walls, (probably provincial notables, an oxymoron). Up a floor she found more corpses, the remains of the guards she had stationed to keep an eye on Lazarus. Their bodies were a nauseating sight with limbs turned to liquids and skulls collapsed in on themselves. Æthermantics was her guess, of the befouled flesh-focused variety. Their weapons were holstered, so it must have been a sudden ambush.

Yet it was clear enough that Lazarus and his cronies had fled in full, so she had her soldiers fan out and inspect room by room. Most were just narrow offices. Belona was somewhat surprised that no filing cabinets had been opened, no documents taken or destroyed. Perhaps they hadn’t the time.

Finally, she made it to Lazarus’s office. This ornate and garish room was a mess. False walls and secret lockers had been opened and left in that state, racks that no doubt held rifles and other weapons now empty. So, the man had always had an escape plan.
Her eye found its focus on one of the far racks. There a gas mask now hung. It was the only one left, but there had clearly been many of its kin hanging beside it. Belona inspected the mask, rough leather, speckled glass, it reminded her of a blackened skull. What in Inferno did Lazarus Roache need gas masks for?

The world suddenly shook. Windows shattered, doors swung, as an explosion roared somewhere below. Suddenly everything clicked in Belona’s head.

“Gas attack!” she shouted, as she frantically threw on the mask and began to wrap cloth around every centimetre of open skin.

“General!” Ivanov stumbled into the room, arm over mouth. Belona glanced around for another mask or any sort of protection for the man. Coughs echoed from down the hall, Rimkus’s, followed by hacking and a gurgling scream. Ivanov turned round; wisps of a crimson smoke glittered in his ‘torchlight. Sangleum gas.

It pounced on him like a wolf. He staggered under the assault, coughing and fruitlessly tossing his fist out to clear the air. The gas pushed into the room, overwhelming him, digging into his lungs as he sought desperate breaths. His coughs turned to wheezing, turned to drowning cries of agony, his skin bubbling crimson. With a wretched wail, the man fell to the floor and started to vomit red gunk. As he tried to move his head, his lips sagged and sloughed off. The gas was doing its work, transforming his insides into mush, and with shaking gasps he expelled his liquified organs onto the rug.

“Heeeeeelllp…” he moaned, the elongated syllables stuttering with agony.

Outside were screams and gunshots. Belona rushed to the window. The world had gone dark, the power dead. She shouted a warning, but her words were impotent. In the flashes of gunfire and the glare of handtorches, she could see the smoke ascending from the depths of the refineries, like great hands clawing up from the abyss of Inferno itself. It rose up, then billowed down, into the streets, into the tents. Even from up here she could hear their pain, the horror, and shock as thousands upon thousands awoke from their cots to a sudden grasping, suffocating death. The army, her army, was torn from their peace, from their slumber after a hard-won victory. They screamed as one. It was an unearthly wailing, unlike anything she had ever heard, on the battlefield or off. It was a horrid sound, agony made manifest on an inhuman scale. A dirge of the damned, improvised in a shared torment by those condemned by her own inaction. It was a song of pure suffering that would never escape Belona’s memory.

The sound stuck with her as she rushed down the stairs into the underway. It haunted her every moment of every minute of every hour that she spent hiding amongst the sewers, every second she spent fleeing through unknown and forgotten passageways. The sound hung to her as she stumbled into sunlight, days later, and it followed her as she made contact with the remnants of Lechslov’s northern forces. It lay in her ears as she was court-martialed, the moans of the dead excoriating her as she was stripped of her command and sent off to a nowhere town. Even now, as she sat across the table from Kayip, three years later, even now as she sat listening to the man’s story, she could still hear the wailing.

‘The Lioness and the Rat Queen’ by Noah Lemelson publishes on August 29, 2023

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