Crystal Storm (Falling Kingdoms #5)

Crystal Storm (Falling Kingdoms #5)

Morgan Rhodes



PROLOGUE


SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO



After he read the message, Gaius crushed the parchment in his fist and fell to his knees. His mind was jumbled with thoughts and memories. So many choices. So many losses.

So many regrets.

He wasn’t sure how long it was before the echoing sound of footsteps drew him from his painful reverie. The small hand of his two-year-old son, Magnus, pressed against his arm. His wife, Althea, stood at the far end of the room, blocking the light from the window in his chambers.

“Papa?”

Gaius glanced, blurry-eyed, at Magnus. Instead of replying, he pulled the boy’s small body against him and tried to take comfort in his son’s embrace.

“What was in that message that’s upset you?” Althea asked crisply, staring down her nose at him.

His throat constricted, as if fighting to speak the truth of it. He finally pulled back from his son to glance up at her.

“She’s dead,” he said, his words as dry and brittle as fallen leaves.

“Who’s dead?”

He didn’t want to answer questions. He didn’t want to talk to his wife today, especially not about this.

“Papa?” Magnus said again, confused, and Gaius looked into his son’s bright eyes. “Why you so sad, Papa?”

He placed his hands on the toddler’s cheeks. “It’s all right,” he assured the boy. “All is well, my son.”

Althea’s jaw had tightened, and there was no kindness in her eyes. “Pull yourself together, Gaius, lest a servant happen to see you like this.”

And what if they did? he thought. Althea was always so concerned about outward appearances and the opinions of others, no matter who they might be. His appreciation for her attention to detail and royal decorum often outweighed his overall apathy for the woman, but today it only made him hate her.

“Take Magnus,” he said, rising to his feet and fixing the stoniest of looks upon his wife. “And send for my mother. I need to see her immediately.”

She frowned. “But, Gaius—”

“Now,” he snapped at her.

With an impatient sigh, Althea took Magnus by his tiny hand and led him out of the room.

Gaius began pacing his chamber, from the heavy oak door that had the Limerian credo of Strength, Faith, Wisdom carved deeply into its surface, to the windows overlooking the Silver Sea. He finally stopped, silently staring down at the cold waters that crashed into the icy cliffs far below the palace window.

It wasn’t very long before the door creaked open behind him and he turned to face his mother. The pained expression he wore drew her brows together. Fine lines fanned out around her dark gray eyes.

“My darling,” Selia Damora said. “What has happened?”

He held the crumpled letter out to her. She closed the distance between them to take it from him and quickly scanned the short message.

“I see,” she said grimly.

“Burn it.”

“Very well.” Using her fire magic, she set the letter aflame. He watched as the parchment fell in soft black ashes to the floor.

“How can I help?” she asked, her voice calm and soothing.

“You offered me something once . . . something powerful . . .” he said, clutching a handful of his shirt over his heart. “You said it could remove this cursed weakness from me once and for all. To help me forget . . . her.”

Her solemn eyes met his. “She died bearing a daughter to another man—a man she chose long after you parted ways. I’m surprised you can’t put all this far behind you.”

“Yet I can’t.” He wouldn’t beg. He wouldn’t shame himself that way before the strongest and most powerful woman he’d ever known. “Will you help me or won’t you? It’s a simple question, Mother.”

Selia’s lips thinned. “No, it’s not simple at all. All magic comes with a price, especially magic as dark as this.”

“I don’t care. Whatever the price, I’ll pay it. I want to be strong in the face of any challenge that lies before me. I want to be as strong as you’ve always believed I could be.”

His mother was silent for a moment. She turned her gaze toward the windows. “You’re absolutely certain about this?” she asked.

“Yes.” The word came out like the hiss of a snake.

She nodded, then left the room to fetch him what he asked—no, begged—for. When she returned, she held the same vial of potion she’d offered him years ago—potion, she said, that would make him strong in both body and mind. It would take away his weaknesses. It would sharpen his focus and help him attain everything he’d ever wanted.

Most importantly, this potion would also help him put his love for Elena Corso firmly where it belonged: in the past.

Gaius took the container that Selia held out to him and stared at the blue glass vial. For such a small object, it felt incredibly weighty in his hand.

“You need to be sure,” Selia told him gravely. “The effects of this potion will stay with you until the day of your death. Once you drink it, you will never feel the same as you do now—you will be irrevocably changed.”

“Yes.” He nodded, his jaw tight. “Changed for the better.”

He uncorked the vial, raised it to his lips, and, before he allowed himself any chance for doubt, drank the thick, warm liquid in one swallow.

“The pain will last only a moment,” Selia said.

His frown deepened. “Pain?”

And then there it was—a sudden burning as if he’d swallowed molten lava. The dark magic coursed through him, burning everything weak and pathetic away. He heard himself scream from the sheer anguish of it as the glass vial fell from his grip and shattered on the stone floor.

Gaius Damora tried to embrace each moment of agony as his lingering weaknesses burned away, his memories of Elena faded to mere embers, and the desire for ultimate power rose within him like a phoenix from the flames.





CHAPTER 1


    JONAS


   KRAESHIA



Far across the sea in Mytica, there was a golden princess Jonas wanted to save.

And a god of fire he needed to destroy.

However, an obstacle now stood in Jonas’s path on the Kraeshian docks, eating into time he didn’t have to waste.

“I thought you said his sister killed him,” Jonas said to Nic under his breath.

“She did.” Nic’s voice came out as barely more than a rasp as he raked both his hands through his messy, bright red hair. “I saw it with my own eyes.”

“Then how is this possible?”

“I . . . I don’t know.”

Prince Ashur Cortas drew to a stop only a few paces away. He eyed both Jonas and Nic through narrowed, silvery-blue eyes that stood out against his dark tan complexion like the glinting edge of a blade at dusk.

The only sounds to be heard for a few long moments were the squawk of a nearby seabird as it plunged downward to catch a fish and the gentle, steady splash of the water against the waiting Limerian ship with its black and red sails.

“Nicolo,” the raven-haired prince said with a nod. “I know you must be very confused to see me again.”

“I . . . I . . . what . . . ?” was Nic’s only reply. The scattering of freckles over his nose and cheeks contrasted boldly with his blanched complexion. He drew in a shaky breath. “This is impossible.”

Ashur raised a dark brow at the boy, hesitating only briefly before he spoke. “In my twenty-one years of life I’ve come to realize that very little in this world is impossible.”

“I watched you die.” The last word sounded as if it had been dragged painfully from Nic’s throat. “What was that? Just another lie? Another scheme? Another plan that you didn’t feel the need to tell me about?”

Jonas was surprised that Nic dared to speak to a member of royalty with such insolence. Not that Jonas himself had much respect for royals, but Nic had spent enough time in the Auranian palace, side by side with its princess, to know it wasn’t wise to be this openly rude.

“It was no lie. What happened at the temple was not a scheme.” Ashur swept his gaze over the Limerian ship, which was ready for imminent departure from the Jewel of the Empire’s crowded, busy docks. “I’ll explain more once we’re at sea.”

Jonas’s brows went up at the prince’s commanding and confident tone. “Once we’re at sea,” he repeated.

“Yes. I’m coming with you.”

“If that’s what you’re planning to do,” Jonas said, crossing his arms, “then you’ll explain more now.”

Ashur eyed him. “Who are you?”

Jonas eyed him back. “I’m the one who decides who gets on this ship—and who doesn’t.”

“Do you know who I am?” Ashur asked.

“Well aware. You’re the brother of Amara Cortas, who just recently seems to have made herself the bloodthirsty empress of most of the damn world. And according to Nic, you’re supposed to be dead.”

A familiar form appeared behind Ashur, catching Jonas’s eye.

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