Crystal Storm (Falling Kingdoms #5)

“Wouldn’t you?” Her fists were clenched at her sides. “If I had a sword in my grasp right now, I’d end you myself.”

The king laughed. “You could certainly try.”

“You look like you’re already dead.” Magnus realized the truth of his words as he spoke them, his father’s pale appearance no healthier than a corpse—his skin slack and bearing a grayish tinge, his bruises mottled browns and purples, his blood so dark it appeared black. “Perhaps Grandmother’s healing magic wasn’t as strong as you’d like to believe.”

“This isn’t healing magic.” His brow glistened with perspiration despite the frigid morning air. “This has only prolonged the inevitable.”

Magnus frowned. “Explain.”

“When what little magic remaining within me fades, I will die.”

His father’s bluntly delivered statement only filled him with more confusion.

“He’s lying,” Cleo said through clenched teeth. “Don’t let him manipulate you. If this isn’t earth magic, then it’s blood magic that keeps his black heart beating.”

Magnus glanced at the guards, taking in their troubled gazes and furrowed brows before returning his attention to his father. “If this is true, how long do you have?”

“I don’t know.” He inhaled, and Magnus heard the hard edge of pain in his breath once again. “Hopefully long enough to fix some of the mistakes I’ve made. The most recent ones, anyway.”

Magnus turned his face away, disgusted. “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time to go over a list as endless as that.”

“You’re right.” Gaius gazed at Magnus, past the sword. “Perhaps I can fix only one, then. In order to defeat Amara and reclaim Mytica, we will need to unlock the full power of the Kindred.”

“For this, we need Lucia’s blood and the blood of an immortal.”

“Yes.”

“I have no idea where to find her.”

Disappointment crossed the king’s pale expression. “I must go to see my mother immediately. She’ll use her magic to find Lucia. I would trust no other witch with this task.”

“Go to her? How?” Magnus frowned. “Grandmother has been dead for more than twelve years.”

“No, she’s very much alive.”

He stared at the king in shock. Magnus’s memories of his grandmother were sparse, foggy glimpses of his childhood and a woman with black hair and a cool gaze. A woman who had passed away shortly after his grandfather’s death.

“He’s trying to confuse you.” Cleo took Magnus’s hand in her own, drawing him away from his father and out of earshot from both him and the guards. “We need to go to Auranos. There’s help there. Help we can trust, without question or doubt. Those loyal to my father’s name will not hold the king’s crimes against you, I promise.”

He shook his head. “This is not a war that a few rebels can win. Amara’s become too powerful, she’s gained too much with barely any effort. We need to find Lucia.”

“And if we’re successful in finding her? What then? She hates us.”

“She’s confused,” Magnus said, an image of his younger sister appearing in his mind. “Grieving. She feels betrayed and lied to. If she knew that her home was in trouble, she would help us.”

“Are you sure about that?”

If Magnus were honest with himself, he’d have to admit he wasn’t sure about anything anymore.

“You must go to Auranos without me,” he spat out the words, as distasteful as they were necessary. “I can’t leave yet. I need to see this through to the end.”

She nodded. “That sounds like a good plan.”

His heart twisted into a vicious knot. “I’m glad you agree.”

“You are, are you?” Cleo’s cerulean eyes flashed with cold fire, and Magnus almost started at her harsh words. “You think that after all of this . . . ?” She threw her hands up in the air in lieu of finishing her sentence. “You are completely impossible, do you know that? I’m not leaving here without you, you idiot—”

His brows shot up. “Idiot?”

“—and that’s the end of this discussion. Got it?”

He stared at her, once again stunned by this girl and everything she said. “Cleo—”

“No, no more arguments,” she cut him off harshly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I need to clear my head. Away from him.” She tossed the last word at the king and, with a glare, marched away, her arms crossed tightly over her chest.

“I see such passion between you now,” the king said as he drew closer to his son, his lips twisting with distaste. “How terribly sweet.”

“Shut your mouth,” Magnus growled.

The king kept his gaze on the princess as she paced angrily nearby. Then he turned toward the guards. “I need to speak to my son in private. Give us space.”

All four guards immediately did as requested and moved away from Magnus and his father.

“Privacy?” Magnus scoffed. “I don’t think anything you have to say to me anymore warrants that.”

“No? Not even if it’s about your golden princess?”

Magnus’s hand was on the hilt of his sword in an instant, fury rising within him. “If you dare threaten her life again—”

“A warning, not a threat.” His father regarded his outrage with only weary patience. “The girl is cursed.”

Magnus was sure he hadn’t heard him correctly. “Cursed?”

“Many years ago, her father was involved with a powerful witch—a witch who didn’t take the news of his marriage to Elena Corso well, so she cursed Elena and any future offspring that they would die in childbirth. Elena nearly died giving her firstborn life.”

“But she didn’t.”

“No, she died with her second.”

Of course Magnus had heard about the former queen of Auranos’s tragic fate and had seen the portraits of Cleo’s beautiful mother in the hallways of the golden palace. But this couldn’t possibly be true.

“It’s said she suffered greatly before she finally passed.” The king’s voice had become not much more than a rasp. “But she was strong enough to see her newborn daughter’s face—and to name her after a wretched, hedonistic goddess—before death finally claimed her. And now this witch’s curse has surely been passed to that daughter.”

Magnus regarded his father with utter disbelief. “You’re lying.”

The king sent a fierce frown at Magnus. “Why would I lie?”

“Why would you lie?” he repeated, a dry laugh rising in his throat. “Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps because you wish to manipulate me at every turn for your own amusement?”

“If that’s what you think . . .” The king flicked his wrist toward Cleo, who was speaking with Enzo now and sending impatient looks toward Magnus and his father. The hem of the scarlet gown she wore peeked out from beneath the dark green fabric of the cloak she’d stolen the night before from a Kraeshian guard. “Get her pregnant and you’ll witness her die in anguish, lying in a deep pool of her own blood as she brings your spawn into this world.”

Magnus had all but stopped breathing. What his father claimed couldn’t possibly be true.

But if it was . . .

Cleo began to close the distance between them, her hood down, her long blond hair fanned over her shoulders.

“Witches casts curses,” Gaius said to Magnus quietly. “Witches are also known to break curses. All the more reason for you to come with me to see your grandmother.”

“You tried to kill me and the princess.”

“Yes, I did. So the decision of how you’ll proceed lies with you now.”

Cleo reached Magnus’s side with Enzo behind her, and she frowned as she looked between father and son. “What is it? Not more plans for me to hide myself away in Auranos, I hope.”

The horrific image of Cleo lying dead on bloody sheets was now locked in Magnus’s mind, her eyes glazed and lifeless while nearby a baby with cerulean eyes cried endlessly for its mother.

“No, princess,” Magnus managed. “You made your thoughts on that quite clear, even if I strongly disagree. I wish to be reacquainted with my grandmother after all these years. She will use her magic to help us find Lucia, who will help us reclaim Mytica. Agreed?”

Cleo didn’t answer for a moment, her brow furrowed in thought. “Yes, I suppose it makes a sickening kind of sense to seek help from another Damora.” She blinked. “Magnus, you’ve become very pale. Are you all right?”

“Fine,” he said tightly. “We leave now.”

“Amara will wonder where I’ve disappeared to without word,” the king said. “That could cause problems.”

Magnus sighed. “Very well. Go and make your excuses for leaving your bride’s side. However, if you try to cross me, Father, I assure you that your death will come far sooner than you anticipate.”





CHAPTER 3


    AMARA


   LIMEROS



Empress Amara Cortas sat upon a carved, gilded chair in the villa’s smaller than adequate main hall. It was a temporary throne, but it did nicely to prop her up so she could easily look down upon the two very different men who kneeled before her.

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