Crystal Storm (Falling Kingdoms #5)

“Would you?” Felix asked. “My eyesight’s not as good as it was, but I think—actually, I know—I could do it real fast. It might not even hurt.” He chuckled darkly as he drew his sword. “No, what am I thinking? It’s going to hurt very badly. I’m no ally to any Cortas, but if Jonas wants the prince to keep breathing, he’s going to keep breathing. Got it?”

The two young men glared at each other for several tense moments. Finally Taran sheathed his weapon.

“Fine,” he said through clenched teeth. The tight smile on his face didn’t match the cold fury in his eyes.

Without a word, he shoved past Felix and boarded the ship.

“Thanks,” Jonas said to Felix under his breath.

Felix watched Taran’s departure with a grim look. “You know he’s going to be a problem, right?

“I do.”

“Great.” Felix glanced at the Limerian ship. “By the way, have I mentioned that I get really seasick, especially with the thought of Amara’s undead brother on board? So if our new friend Taran tries to cut my throat while I’m vomiting off the side of the ship, you’re the one I blame.”

“Understood.” Jonas eyed Nic and Ashur warily. “Very well, whatever fate awaits us on the other side, let’s set sail for Mytica. All of us.”

“Thought you didn’t believe in fate?” Nic muttered as they made their way up the gangplank.

“I don’t,” Jonas said.

But, to be honest, only a small part of him believed that anymore.





CHAPTER 2


    MAGNUS


   LIMEROS



The sun rose in the east while Magnus waited at the bottom of the steep cliff for his father to die. He watched tensely as the pool of blood around the king’s head grew, becoming a large crimson stain on the surface of the frozen lake.

Magnus tried to summon something inside of him other than hatred for Gaius Damora. But he could not.

His father had been a sadistic tyrant his entire life. He’d given away his kingdom to an enemy as if it were nothing more than a meaningless bauble. He had secretly ordered the murder of his own wife, Magnus’s mother, because she stood in the way of the power he craved. And, just before he fell from the cliff, the king had come within mere moments of ending the life of his son and heir.

Magnus jumped when Cleo’s hand brushed against his.

“We can’t stay here,” she said quietly. “It won’t be long until we’re discovered.”

“I know.” Magnus glanced at the four Limerian guards who stood nearby, awaiting orders. He wished he knew exactly what to tell them.

“If we hurry, we can make it to the docks of Ravencrest by sunset. We’ll be in Auranos within a week. There we can find help from rebels who won’t sit back and let Amara take everything away from us.”

“Does that make me a rebel now too?” he asked, almost able to find the humor in such a statement.

“I think you’ve been a rebel longer than you’d care to admit. But yes. We can be rebels together.”

Something stirred deep inside of him at her words, a kind of warmth that he’d repressed for far too long.

The king—with help from Magnus—had destroyed Cleo’s entire life, yet she still stood by his side. Fearless. Brave.

Hopeful.

He kept thinking that this was only a fevered dream, that this perfect version of the princess might fade as the sun rose higher in the sky. But as the day grew light, she still stood by his side. She wasn’t a dream.

Magnus raised his gaze to hers. Yesterday had been a blur of desperation and fear. It had been the absolute worst day of his life, which had been turned utterly inside out the moment he’d finally found her in the woods, alive and fighting with all her strength to survive.

He’d confessed his love for her in a pathetic heap of messy words, and she hadn’t turned away from him, disgusted. This beautiful golden princess who had lost so much . . . she’d said she loved him too.

It still didn’t seem possible.

“Magnus?” Cleo gently prompted when he didn’t respond immediately. “What do you say? Shall we make our way to Ravencrest?”

He was about to answer, when the king drew in a hoarse, rattling breath.

“Magnusssss . . .”

His gaze shot to his father’s face. The king’s eyes were open now, and he raised his arm a few inches, as if reaching for his son.

Impossible. Magnus forced himself not to stagger back from the man in shock.

“You should be dead by now,” Magnus managed, his throat painfully tight.

The king made a strange, coughing sound then, and if Magnus didn’t know better, he’d swear it sounded like a laugh.

“Not . . . that simple . . . I’m afraid,” the king sputtered.

Magnus could see Cleo’s eyes blazing with hatred as she looked down at the man. “Why did you say my mother’s name?”

The king glanced up at her, his gaze narrowed. He licked his dry lips but didn’t reply.

Magnus looked at Cleo with surprise. The king had spoken the name Elena in what had seemed like his dying gasps. Had he really meant Queen Elena Bellos?

“Answer me,” she demanded. “Why did you speak her name when you looked at me? You said you were sorry. Sorry for what? What did you do to her that you would need to be sorry for?”

“Oh . . . dear princess . . . if only you knew.” The king’s words were less like dying gasps this time and more like the sluggish statement of someone who had just awoken from a deep slumber.

The guards had drawn closer to them at the sound of the king’s voice.

Enzo gasped as King Gaius pressed his hands against the blood-spattered snow and raised his head from the icy ground. “What dark magic is this?” The guard’s wide eyes glanced over to Magnus, and he immediately bowed his head. “Apologies, your highness.”

“None required. It’s an excellent question.” Uneasily, Magnus drew his sword and held it as steadily as he could to the king’s chest. “You should be broken beyond repair, like a bird that flew into a window. What dark magic is this, Father? And is it strong enough to save you from a sharp steel point?”

The king glanced at him with a thin-lipped smirk. “You’d so easily wish to finish a man who’s grasping at the smallest edge of life?”

“If that man is you, then yes,” Magnus hissed.

His father was helpless, weak, bruised, and bloody. It would be the easiest kill Magnus had ever made. And well deserved. So very well deserved.

One jab, one small gesture, could end this. Why, then, did his sword arm feel trapped in stone, unable to move?

“The earth Kindred . . .” Cleo whispered, touching the pocket of her cloak where she’d put the crystal orb. “It’s healed him. Is that what this is?”

“I don’t know,” Magnus admitted.

“I don’t think the Kindred’s magic has anything to do with this.” The king now sat upright, his legs stretched out before him. He looked down at his hands, scraped and bleeding from holding on to the edge of the cliff. Gaius took out a pair of black gloves from inside his torn cloak. He slid them on, grimacing from the effort. “As I fell, I felt the darklands reaching for me, ready to claim another demon for their ranks. When I hit the ground, I felt my bones shatter. You’re right: I should be dead.”

“And yet, you’re sitting and speaking,” Cleo said, her words clipped.

“I am.” He peered up at her. “It must be taking quite a lot of restraint from you right now, princess, not to beg my son to end my life.”

Her eyes narrowed. “If I didn’t think your guards would kill him a moment later, I would.”

Magnus looked toward the silent guards now flanking them. Each one had their sword in hand, their expressions tense.

“Point well made.” The king took a deep, steady breath. “Guards, hear me. You will obey all commands of Magnus Damora from this moment forward. He will not be held responsible for anything that has, or will, happen to me.”

The guards glanced at each other with strained and uncertain expressions before Enzo nodded. “Very well, your highness,” he said.

“What deception is this?” Cleo spat out. “Do you think we’ll believe anything you say?”

The king smiled. “We. How very sweet it is that you two have traversed this dangerous maze together and come out on the other side holding hands. How long have you two been working together against me? I’d no idea I had been so blind.”

Magnus ignored the king’s attempt to throw him off course. “If this isn’t Kindred magic, what is it?”

With total disregard for the sword Magnus held, the king slowly and shakily pushed himself up to his feet. “Melenia told me that I was destined for immortality, that I would be a god.” He let out a small, bitter laugh. “For a time, I actually believed her.”

“Answer my damn question,” Magnus snarled again. He jabbed the blade forward, leaving a shallow scratch on the king’s throat.

Gaius flinched, his expression darkening in an instant. “There’s only one person responsible for the magic that helped me survive today. Your grandmother.”

Magnus didn’t believe him. “What common witch could possess magic as strong as this?”

“There was never anything common about Selia Damora.”

“You expect us to believe anything you say?” Cleo snapped.

The king looked at the girl without a lick of kindness in his eyes. “No. I wouldn’t expect a child to understand the complexities of life and death.”

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