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Saturday, July 9, 2022

Blog Tour- THE ROYAL TRIALS (LAST GATE OF THE EMPEROR #2) by @KSekouM & @HIHPrinceYoel With An Excerpt & #Giveaway! @Scholastic, & @RockstarBkTours

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the THE ROYAL TRIALS (LAST GATE OF THE EMPEROR #2) by Kwame Mbalia & Prince Joel Makonnen Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


About The Book:


Author: Kwame Mbalia & Prince Joel Makonnen

Pub. Date: July 19, 2022

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Pages: 272

Find it: GoodreadsAmazon, B&NiBooks, KoboTBD, Bookshop.org

From Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel David Makonnen comes an Afrofuturist adventure about a mythical Ethiopian empire. Sci-fi and fantasy combine in this epic journey to the stars.

Yared has traveled a long way to find his place in the universe. Light years, even. Though the battle of Addis Prime is over, the spacefaring Axum Empire is still fractured. The kingdom once gave their technology away free of charge, to better humankind. Now, having been missing for over a decade, they’re returning to the planet where their galaxy-spanning civilization began―Earth.

But they find the planet in disarray. Old Earth’s atmosphere is a mess of junked shuttles and satellites. This is especially true of Debris Town, an orbital flotilla where poor spacefarers―left to rot by the Intergalactic Union that rose up in Axum’s place―have taken to piracy to survive.

Yared is set to speak at the opening of the Royal Trials, a competition of the best exo pilots in the Sol System. But on the day of his speech, the pirates launch an attack!

The siege sets off a chain of events that will lead Yared into the depths of Old Earth―and the jaws of a cruel betrayal. There’s more to the pirates―and Debris Town―than anyone saw coming.




Automated voice: Checking approved holofeeds for  today, 2150.227. 

Automated voice: No feeds approved. Prisoner  restricted at quantum levels. 

Automated voice: Unauthorized access detected. Automated voice: Processing . . . processing . . . proc Automated voice: Access granted. Welcome,  USER_ID_NOT_FOUND. 

Automated voice: Three feeds approved. Playing  first holofeed. 

INA Newsbot: Intergalactic News Association. News  from the stars you can trust. Now this. 

INA Newsbot: Excitement! Speculation! And more  than a little curiosity, as an empire returns. Axum,  long thought destroyed, has reemerged. But is the  former benevolent superpower what it once was?  

Even now, as the iconic traveling space station enters  the edges of the Sol-Luna System, people are divided. INA Newsbot: Some welcome the return of the  creators of much of the technology we currently use, including this newsbot. Others can’t help but  point out their convenient timing, just as the Inter galactic Union is set to vote on who will be awarded  all the scientific research left behind when Axum  disappeared. And just where were they? Why do  preliminary scans show battle damage on the space  station? And, as several IU ambassadors have mentioned privately, what do they want? These questions  and more will have to be answered, and soon. INA Newsbot: And now this: Another inner-system  attack by the group calling themselves the Shrikes.  IU authority says— 

Automated voice: End of first holofeed. Automated voice: Playing second holofeed. 

nanoL0gic: Welcooooooooome to a special episode  of epiCast! Coming to you live from the Jupiter  Colony Academy! Thank you to our partners at  LunaCola—because of them, we’re now streaming  throughout Sol System. 

nanoL0gic: The Royal Trials are almost here. Are  you ready? We’ll have highlights and commentary  from games across the tournament. I’m your host, L0giiiiic, and it’s time for my favorite segment and  yours, “Stream Hopping”! So plug in, get your questions ready, and hold on to your digitized butts,  because YOU might get to hop in stream with me.  Ready? Let’s gooooo! 

nanoL0gic: Hey, what’s up, you’re holo’ed in the  epiCast stream. What’s your name, and what’re you  most excited about? 

Bank$hot: Hey, I’m on! I’m on! MOM! Holy . . . okay, hey, L0gic! My name is Bank$hot, I’m eleven,  and I’m super excited about the Royal Trials,  especially the Trios. 

nanoL0gic: Hey, Bank$hot, welcome to the stream!  And Trios! Definitely ready to see our faves  compete. If for some chaffing reason you don’t  know what Trios is, jack up the volume on the  stream and pay attention. Trios is the new battle  royale format—not one, not two, but three players  team up in squad-based action to take on other  teams, all competing to reach the final level.  But the fun doesn’t end there! Once at the final  level, it’s every player for themselves! Ultimate  betrayals and backstabbing! If you thought the  rivalries were heated in Duos, look out! Thanks,  Bank$hot!

nanoL0gic: Hey, what’s up? You’re holo’ed in the  epiCast stream. What’s your name, and what’re you  most excited about? 

ImanI: Heeeey, L0gic. My name is ImanI, and I’m  ready to meet the new prince! Do you think he’ll  make an appearance? Ooh, do you think he’ll play  in the Royal Trials? 

nanoL0gic: Hey, ImanI, nice holofit! And the  prince! What a story, right? Royalty at the battle  royale. The headlines stream themselves! Prince  Yared the First, better known as Yared the Gr8,  is one of the top gamers across the leaderboards,  especially the HKO. I sure hope he enters the  Trials. But who knows? No one’s seen or heard from  him since Axum entered the system. Will one of  the galaxy’s top gamers miss out on the tourna ment of a lifetime? Where is Prince Yared? 

nanoL0gic: Where is Prince Yared? 

nanoL0gic: Where is Prince Yared? 

nanoL0gic: Where aazzse22&^2 . . . . . . . . . 

Automated voice: Holofeed corrupted. End of  holofeed.

Automated voice: Playing third holofeed. 

. . . 

. . . 

. . . 

The Fallen: They’re here . . . It’s time. 

Automated voice: End of holofeed. 

Log Entry, 0923 ST, Private Diary of the Royal Heir, Lij  Yared Heywat 

I, Yared Heywat—recently discovered prince of the Axum  Empire, and not-so-recently-discovered top-ranked gamer  on any leaderboard you can name—am formally using this  diary entry as my personal confession. 

First, I did not mean to start an intergalactic incident with  an entire nation of artificial intelligences. I love sentient AIs.  One of my best friends, a bionic lioness, is a sentient AI. The  Coalition of Sentient Intelligence Networks has my deepest  apologies, and I will do my best to support them going for 

ward. I even bought an I Love CoSIN pin for my flight suit. Second, I 100 percent believed that solar collector I  destroyed was already broken. To the wonderful LiquiBulb corporation (I’m a huge fan of your juice bulbs, by the  way—super refreshing and tasty, ten out of ten, would buy  for my friends), I am super-duper sorry. Hopefully power  will be restored to your facility soon and we all will get  to enjoy . . . your spinach-and-salmon-soufflĂ© juice bulbs  once again. Mmm. I can taste the energy already. Lovely. 

Finally, to the person whom I will actually be sending  this diary entry but can’t actually name because some bionic  lionesses like to read my outgoing comms for “protection,”  I’m sorry. I really am. But, if I had to do it all again, every  single action taken up to this point, you know what? I would. 

Even the part where I nearly died.



0645 ST, Harar Station, Axum

The shrieking alarm caught me with my pants down.  Literally. Look, I don’t like telling you any more than you  like hearing it, but the truth is the truth. And my Royal  Education Adviser and Reminder constantly begs me to tell  the honest truth. Not boast, brag, or stretch it in any way.  And I don’t know about you, but I listen to my REAR. 

“Azaj, what’s going on?” I asked, fumbling with my for mal flight suit. It’s hard to put on a uniform while hovering  upside down in midair. More on that in a second. 

The Harar’s minister of the palace—an AI assistant that  lived in Axum’s servers—appeared as a translucent hologram in front of me and frowned. “It appears that you need  help dressing, among other things.” 

“Not my status—the station!” I snapped. “What’s the  emergency?” 

The hologram sniffed. Can holograms sniff? Azaj, when it had to appear in front of people, took on the image of  a thin older man with a pencil-thin graying mustache and a  shimmering green shamma. The long cloth twisted and wrapped around the AI in a formal pattern, an arrangement I couldn’t hope to imitate. I should know, because it’s  what I was currently wrangling with. 

Upside down, again. I promise I’ll explain why in a  second. 

“I shall brief you once you’ve extricated yourself  from your current predicament. As an aside, Her Royal  Highness—your mother—instructed me to collect you.  And to, I quote, ‘tell him to stop trying to cheat. He’ll  still lose during family game night, regardless of whatever  hacks he uploads to his nefasi.’” 

I folded my arms and glared at the hologram, but Azaj  merely lifted an eyebrow. I guess it’s hard to appear intimidating when you’re wearing nothing but high-tech undies  and floating upside down. 

“I wasn’t trying to cheat,” I grumbled. 

Explanation time, because I don’t want anyone saying  Yared the Gr8 is a cheater. I have to protect my rep—people  already thought I got an unfair advantage, what with being  a prince and all. 

I was currently hovering high above the Meshenitai simulation room. It was a large oval space the size of a field. The walls sloped out and up in a gentle curve, with silver lines  forming a checkered pattern against the soft gray. When  activated, the room could simulate any environment, under  any conditions you could think of. Want to pilot a powered  exoskeleton (exo for short) around a tropical island? What  about through an abandoned battle cruiser that crashed  on a moon? The possibilities were endless, and I spent  hours coming up with different scenarios. Days sometimes.  Just . . . me. By myself. Coming up with ridiculous tasks  and trying to complete them. 

The Ibis used to help me program them, but ever since she  started her Meshenitai astrogator training, she had less and  less time to hang out. Uncle Moti used it to train Meshenitai  in different maneuvers, but he’d been called away for some  important meeting a few days ago. I hadn’t seen him since.  In fact, I hadn’t really seen anyone over the past few days.  Even Besa, my bionic lioness turned Guardian, a half-ton  bodyguard with diranium claws and a ticklish spot behind  her ears, was gone a lot. Something about getting new claw  upgrades. I don’t know, that cat was always getting her  nails done. 

The point is I was . . . I was lonely. There. I said it.  Nobody tells you that being a prince means missing gaming  sessions with friends because you have to learn protocol. So  to help out, Mom, the Empress, came up with family game night. I got to pick the game, and we all—me, Uncle Moti,  Dad, Mom, the Ibis, and Besa—would trek to the simulator  and laugh, eat snacks, and game. 

Nobody also told me that Mom was a genius when it  came to capture the flag. Seriously. It was borderline unbelievable. Have you ever played CTF in an exo? You have to  stay on your toes, and Mom was a pro. 

So that’s why I was in there, late for dinner, upside down in  my nefasi as the mysterious alarm blared and the simulation  froze. Practice. Not that Azaj cared. The virtual minister’s  responsibilities—making sure every part of Axum Station  ran smoothly—didn’t include listening to my excuses. 

By the way the hologram was tapping a virtual finger  impatiently, a certain newly discovered prince was complicating things. 

You can take the boy out of Addis Prime, but you can’t  take Addis Prime out of the boy. 

“Just give me two seconds, Azaj, and I’ll be ready. They  gave me a defective shamma. Am I supposed to wrap it over  the arm or under the arm?” 

“You’re supposed to be on the ground right side up when  you put it on,” the AI said drily. 

“That’s boring.” I finally managed to pull the cloth into  position and grinned. “See? Just your esteemed presence  helps me out. By the way, have you seen my REAR?”

Azaj winced. “I wish you wouldn’t call it that.” “‘Every good prince’s REAR should always be right  behind him,’” I quoted from the orientation holovid I had to  watch when the adviser bot was assigned to me. “‘Backing  him up.’” 

Azaj scowled, then the hologram straightened at its  edges. It began to shimmer. “It appears I am being summoned. Possibly because of the station-wide alert that was  just issued. I would suggest, my prince, that you familiarize  yourself with station protocols before leaving your quarters.  And not just the ones that are in place during an emergency.  Day-to-day ones, such as dressing in appropriate attire, are  also important. I will send your REAR—oh, teff of the  saints, now he’s got me calling it that. Your adviser should  be along shortly.” 

With that, the AI palace minister disappeared, and so  did the grin on my face. There was so much I didn’t know  about being a prince. Sooner or later, it was going to catch  up with me. I just hoped it wouldn’t be in front of anyone. 

Okay, you guys, I’m back with another update. I hope you  all liked the last one. It felt kinda nice talking to y’all, even  though you can’t talk back. Anyway, enough of that dull  stuff. Listen up, here are Yared’s Top Ten Facts You Didn’t  Know about Being a Space Prince:

1. Talking! 

Everybody wants to talk to me. Wait, I don’t think that’s  right. Everybody wants to talk AT me. It’s like all the newsvid  reporters want to talk to the new prince about Axum and what  my daily routine is and stuff like that. I think one group even  sent a camera-drone by one-way courier rocket to have it follow me around for a day in the life of Prince Yared. But no one actually wants to have a conversation with me,  you know? It’s like, they don’t want to talk to Yared—just “the  prince.” Does that makes sense? Anyway. 

2. Space! 

Not the stars and planets and that asteroid I got to name.  (Hope you like the Haji-0043 vids I linked.) I’m talking about all  the room there is aboard the Harar. That’s the name of the top  section of the Axum capital space station. There are two more  modules still missing, and we’re heading to find one of them,  Adwa, now. Maybe there will be a bunch of kids living there  when we arrive. It’d be nice to have some people in all this space.  I mean, yeah, it’s cool to have my own room and not hear Uncle  Moti snoring and Besa having that one dream where she fights  a bunamech for the last bulb of lubricant oil. But it’d be nice to  have some more people to hang out with in all this space, too.

Wow, this is getting kind of sad. That’s not the point of  these updates! Okay, the next one should be really cool. 

3. Medical tattoos! 

Okay, technically they’re miniature med-drones that are  assigned to check my vitals, give me vitamins, and make sure I  have the latest antibiotics. But still. They draw them onto your  skin, and you can pick the pattern you want! It’s only right,  since no one really likes robugs crawling around them. (That  name is patent-pending, by the way, so don’t steal it.) 

The robugs are super important, apparently, because did  you know there are, like, millions of things that can get you  sick if you travel the galaxy? It’s like every world has their own  version of the flu and they’re just itching to give it to you. 

Anyway, that’s it for now. I gotta go; there’s somebody coming. I’ll drop this off at the next Nexus uplink I see. Later, guys! 

My REAR found me frozen in a desert. 

No, seriously, I’m not joking. All the birr a royal allowance provided, and I couldn’t get a decent holosim to  work. There I was, Prince Yared of Axum—an empire of  advanced technology and sparkling ingenuity—floating  helplessly two hundred meters up in the air.

Upside down, mind you! 

The harness of my nefasi, the backpack I lined with anti-gravity padding, held me high above the space station’s sim  chamber floor. Technically I wasn’t supposed to be here.  The Meshenitai, fabled warriors and protectors of Axum,  trained here. Battle scenarios, space station defense, rescue  strategies—they all could be programmed to play out in  thousands of different environments. If my uncle Moti— excuse me, General Moti Berihun, commander of the  Burning Legion of Axum—caught me here, I’d be doing  laps around the docking ring for hours. 

Good thing he was off chasing space pirates. 

Although . . . I could’ve used his help right then. Anyone’s  help, actually. I was using one of the Meshenitai sims to do  a little training of my own. Not that I needed it, but the Royal Trials were days away, and I’d just learned it was  going to be a Trios format. Three teammates. 

I’d just gotten used to having one partner, and now I had  to have two! Hopefully the Ibis and Fatima would get up to speed quickly. I’d assumed they’d want to join my team.  Why wouldn’t they? Two Meshenitai (well, one Meshenitai  and one new recruit) plus me, the greatest gamer that ever  crossed the stars? We couldn’t lose! Good thing I scheduled  an impromptu training session and messaged them about  it in the middle of the night. They hadn’t responded yet, which was weird, but maybe they were just too excited and  stayed up all night watching the Royal Trials level reveal  like I did. Now I just had to wait until they showed up and  we could start training. 

After they rescued me. 

I sighed. I’d been doing fine! But apparently the  Meshenitai training sims weren’t configured with the latest  patches from, well, any game played in the last century. Let  alone the new Royal Trials levels. So I took the liberty of  uploading them, tweaking them a bit to provide more of a  challenge, and here we were! The perfect training sim! 

Well, at least until the desert level glitched around me.  My nefasi was just about to respond to the new level pick ups (I added a turbo boost for fun) when, all of a sudden,  the sim froze. 

I couldn’t move. I could only stare at the wonderfully  rendered environment—the sandstorm threatening to  engulf me was delightful—as I waited to be rescued. But  any moment now the Ibis or Fatima or even Besa, my bionic  mouse catcher/lioness/Guardian, would arrive and— 

“Selam, my prince!” a cheerful voice said behind me. I sighed. Maybe being rescued was overrated. “About  time, Doombot.” 

A silver pyramid-shaped bot buzzed into my upside down view. Gold lines swept diagonally down and around its surface, and the faint blue glow of its antigrav thrusters  gave it a majestic look. Too bad it was just a glorified snitch. “I’m glad the Azaj sent me to you,” Doombot said. I  named my REAR that as a joke, but since I always happened to get in trouble whenever it popped up, the name  stuck. “According to my logs, it appears you have avoided  my carefully laid schedule for today’s events. I am here to  rectify that.” 

“Can’t help you there, Doombot. I’m super busy.” Doombot bobbed in the air and waited. Silence fell. I  folded my arms and tried to whistle, but have you ever tried  to whistle upside down? It’s impossible. Just a few spluttering raspberries and a glob of drool. And you never want to  drool while upside down. 

After several seconds passed, Doombot spun in a circle.  “Are you still—” 

“Still busy!” I said, wiping my face. “My friends should  be here any minute.” 

“Ah! If you are referring to the newest Meshenitai  recruit—” 

“The Ibis.” I nodded. 

“—and her trainer—” 

“Fatima, too.” 

“—and your Guardian—”

“Besa, yep, those are the friends. They’ll be here any  minute now. Practice, you know?” 

“—they’re not coming.” 

“The Royal Trials are coming up soon, and Trios will  be the toughest competition . . . Wait, what?” I glared at  Doombot. “What do you mean, they’re not coming? We’ve  got practice! And I was up until morning programming this  desert environment.” 

The helper bot spun on its axis again. “The human  ‘friends,’ as you like to call them, have an assembly they’re  attending. Your lioness is being refit for close-quarters protection. Which leaves you, Your Highness. And as your  schedule clearly says, this time was reserved for speech  rehearsal.” 

I stared at it in confusion. 

“For the upcoming Intergalactic Union reception?”  Doombot said helpfully. 

Still nothing. 

“You have to give a speech about Axum’s mission to find  the missing modules.” 

My eyes widened. “Ooohhh, that! I thought that was,  like, you know, optional.” 

“I’m afraid not, my prince. You will be required to  stand in front of thousands of ambassadors, millions more watching via holofeed, and deliver a perfect speech that will  surely be replayed around the galaxy far into the future.  History will be made when you address the IU. Now, then,  let’s just go over . . . Wait, what are you doing? My prince?” 

Look, I’m not afraid to admit I panicked here. But do you  blame me? They wanted me to give a speech! To people!  You send a princely message to the Nexus one time—in  order to stop a rampaging Bulgu—and all of a sudden they  make a figurehead out of you. Well, not this kid. 

I unclipped the harness on my nefasi. “I don’t do speeches.  Nope. No, sirree, bot. I’m out. If anyone needs me, I’ll be  under my bed.” 

“But, my prince!” 

“Later, Doombot,” I called as the last snap unbuckled . . . . . . and I began to fall six stories to the sim floor below. 

The air whistled past my ears as I plummeted. Somewhere  above me, I heard alarms blaring and Doombot shouting  for help, but it all faded into the background as I squinted  and let out a giant whoop. 

“This is amaaaaaaaaaaaazing!” I shouted. 

Everything merged together into a gray blur. The only  thing that mattered was this moment. Me and the wind— artificial or not—between my fingertips as I spread my arms wide. I hadn’t been able to get away from my newfound  princely responsibilities for a while. Everyone wanted me to  do something. Study the history of Axum. My family’s history. Aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents: this  branch of the family tree or that one. Or maybe they, like  Doombot, wanted me to do what princes were supposed to  do. Make speeches, attend dinners, pose for holosims that  would be broadcast throughout the galaxy. 

And that’s cool and all. 

But . . . 

What about me? Did being a prince mean I had to stop  being Yared? 

The grin faded as I scowled, my eyes still closed. No. Not  today. Today, Yared was doing something I always wanted  to do . . . fly. 

I opened my eyes and flicked my wrist. A beam of light  shot out from the sleeve of my flight suit, and I caught it in  my left hand. Glanced down. 

The sim floor grew closer and closer, much quicker than  I’d expected. 

I stretched the light out with the gleaming silver-etched  black gloves on both my hands. The beam flattened into  a wide, winged triangular shape that glowed brighter than a  thousand stars.

The floor was only a dozen meters away. 

I pushed the winged light toward my boots and kicked  my heels into place, smirking when the energy board turned  silver-blue. Birhani activation complete. 

The floor was close enough for me to see my reflection,  less than a meter before Axum’s newest prince turned into  Yared injera, when I twisted my legs sharply. The birhani  pivoted, skated along the training room’s wall, and let out  a high whine as I grabbed the front lip of the energy board  and shot forward, centimeters above the ground. I sped out  of the room and into a curved hallway. 

What? You thought I was in danger? Please. 

I raced down the empty corridor, laughing and shouting. Sometimes I’d ride up one curved wall and loop around  to the other side, dodging parked people movers and leaping over the occasional cleaner bot. The training sim room  was located in one of the sections of Axum where no one  had been for years, which was good and bad. It was good  because it meant I could do whatever I wanted without  someone telling me I was doing it wrong or wasn’t doing it  princely enough. 

The bad? Well . . . 

I swerved gently to avoid a stuffed undertaker bird lying  in the middle of the corridor. Frowned, then began to slow. 

Some child had probably dropped it and cried about missing it for weeks on end. Every now and then, no matter  how hard I tried, I couldn’t escape the knowledge that the  Werari and their monster, the Bulgu, had done this. They  forced the people of Axum to flee! To scatter across the  galaxy! My heart broke all over again. 

But that was the whole point of the journey we were  on right now. Axum—the Emperor and Empress, their  Meshenitai, Guardians, and other staff—was on its way to  reunite the fractured pieces into a whole. Somewhere out  there among the stars, a kid like me stared up and wondered where they really belonged. 

I hoped we could bring them that answer soon. To that end, we would need the help of others. Like the  Intergalactic Union, or IU for short. The governing body  of the galaxy. The people I had to make a speech in front of later. 

I sighed, then paused and looked around. I . . . didn’t  recognize a single centimeter of my surroundings. “Not again,” I groaned. The one drawback to zooming  around the abandoned sections of a giant space station: It  was super easy to get lost. 

A blue light flickered over my wrists as I opened my wrist  comm. A map of the local area floated in the air in front of me. Scratching my head, I tried to zoom in and rotate  to find out where I was, but the maze of passageways and  doors made no sense. As I zoomed out to try and get a better look, a red light blinked on my wrist comm. Message ping. Sender, Uncle Moti. 

“Great,” I said. “Just great. Just what I need, a lecture  about getting lost and responsibilities and blah blah blah.” I  hesitated, then dismissed the alert. It was probably best for  me to figure out where I was before facing the interrogation. 

The birhani cast a soft glow as I floated in the middle of  a giant six-way junction. Empty streets lined with benches  and hoverlamps stretched off into the distance all around  me. The space station was a giant obelisk surrounded by  habitation rings larger than the city of Addis Prime, where  I grew up, and it was far bigger on the inside. I got lost  once trying to find a shower in my bedroom. (Fun fact: The  showers were giant spheres that rotated around you, like  standing in a gentle whirlpool that cleaned you instead of  terrifying you.) 

Anyhoo, traveling on a path toward the outer ring was  called moving ringward, while traveling toward the inner  ring, in the direction of the central obelisk, was called moving inward. From the little info I could pull from the map, I  was in a section of the space station highlighted in orange,  a flashing rectangular message in the middle.

“‘Closed due to insufficient number of residents,’” I read  aloud. “‘Royal decree required to reopen.’” 

I looked around. The highlighted section of the map was  right in front of me. The streets were clear. The residential living modules, bright and airy hexagons with built-in  green spaces, were in pristine condition. Somewhere in the  distance, I could hear a water fountain, and hidden speakers filled the air with gentle birdsong. 

Basically . . . it was perfect. And yet . . . 

I sent the birhani humming down the street and drifted  lazily from side to side, taking in the beautiful patterns and  intricate designs decorating the sides of the lot of buildings. Holo-ads for neighborhood businesses, eateries, and  other attractions materialized as I floated by. Street names  written in Ge’ez traced themselves in light, disappearing  as I moved on. I could almost hear the people going about  their day—looking for a meal, gathering with friends,  laughing at something that happened earlier in the day. It  was . . . really sad. 

Something beeped shrilly in the distance. 

I froze. 

What was that noise? I leaned forward, and the light wing hummed a little faster down the street. “Hello?” I  called out. “Anyone there?” 

Nothing. Only the artificial birdsong. I frowned, then sent the lightwing creeping forward even farther before  coming to a stop near a plain one-story storage building.  I listened for that weird noise, but there was nothing. The  storage building’s hatchway had lights running around it,  but when I moved closer, it remained shut. Must’ve been  locked. 

The beeping sounded again. It was definitely coming  from the storage building. 

“I’m warning you, I have a”—I glanced down, then  gulped—“a map, and I’m not afraid to use it.” Still no answer. I cruised forward a few more meters  before frowning and slowing to a stop. Maybe I was just  paranoid. Battling the Werari—had that really only been  a few months ago?—had turned my nerves to glass. The  slightest surprise would— 

The floor beneath me fell away. A square section col lapsed into a ramp that slid into darkness. I shouted as the  birhani and I tumbled down, head over heels. I crashed into  two poles, ribs first, and grunted in pain. That was going  to leave a mark. 

“Jeeez,” I groaned, clutching my side. “I’m suing. Someone.  Everyone. Who leaves a trapdoor there? That’s just . . .” My voice trailed off as the birhani—which had gone  dark—flickered back to life. The light from the lightboard filled the room I’d just fallen into. I hadn’t crashed into  poles. They were legs. Armored legs. I stood slowly, the  birhani rising with me. 

Dented armor legs. 

An armored chestplate that looked to be scorched and  beat up beyond repair. 

Midnight-black helmet with tinted faceshield. “An exo,” I whispered. “Old, but . . .” 

A light blinked on in the upper-right corner of the  faceshield . . . and the helmet moved. 

I screamed and ran. I’ve never climbed anything as fast  as I climbed that ramp. When I reached the top, I threw  the birhani beneath my boots and cranked up the speed  as far as it could go, only for it to flicker off again. It  crashed to the street and sent me skidding across the ground  once more. 

Boots dropped into view as I rolled over. When I looked  up, a group of silver-and-black Meshenitai exos, loaded  down with a small armory, dropped to the ground in bright  trails of fire. Five, ten, fifteen of them landed around me,  circling in a ring of bristling metal and burning thrusters.  Black faceshields masked them, and as one they unsheathed  curved swords bigger than me, their blades rippling with  black fire.

A bead of sweat rolled down my face. The birhani fizzled  and disappeared. 

“Um . . . hi?” I said. 

One of the exos stepped forward, and the faceshield  slid up. 

“You are in huge trouble,” said the Ibis.



About Kwame Mbalia:

KWAME MBALIA is a husband, father, writer, a New York Times bestselling author, and a former pharmaceutical metrologist in that order. He is the author of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, a Coretta Scott King Honor book. He lives with his family in North Carolina. Visit him online at kwamembalia.com.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | TikTok | Goodreads


About Prince Joel Makonnen:

PRINCE JOEL MAKONNEN is the great-grandson of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, the last emperor of Ethiopia. He is an attorney and the co-founder of Old World/New World, a media and entertainment company focused on telling powerful African stories that inspire global audiences through film, TV and books. He lives with his wife, Ariana, in Los Angeles.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads


Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a finished copy of THE ROYAL TRIALS (LAST GATE OF THE EMPEROR #2), US Only.

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Tour Schedule:

Week One:


BookHounds YA

Excerpt/IG Post


#BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog



Ya Books Central



Kait Plus Books

Excerpt/IG Post


Two Chicks on Books


Week Two:


Rajiv's Reviews

Review/IG Post



IG Post


Little Red Reads




Review/IG Post


Eye-Rolling Demigod's Book Blog

Review/IG Post


The Momma Spot

Review/IG Post


Lifestyle of Me


Week Three:


The Erudite Labyrinth




IG Review


Locks, Hooks and Books



Two Points of Interest

Review/IG Post


The Bookwyrm's Den



Books and Zebras

Review/IG Post

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