Crystal Storm (Falling Kingdoms #5)

Timotheus’s image didn’t flicker like a candle. It remained solid and bright. And Lucia was reminded again that he resembled Alexius so much that the two, if mortal, could have been mistaken as brothers by blood.

“Danaus and Stephanos. Melenia. Phaedra, Alexius, and Olivia. All missing from our already dwindling numbers. You fear that I have masterminded every one of these recent disappearances, but you’re wrong. You believe we should be searching for our missing people in the mortal world, yet I won’t let you leave.

“What I’m doing,” Timotheus continued, “what I have done . . . is because a great danger has risen in the mortal world, a danger that affects everything we’ve worked so hard and so long to protect. With so few of us left, I’ve done only what I must to protect you all. And I only ask for your trust for a little while longer, before all will be revealed.”

His words didn’t help tame the fierce looks in the eyes of the immortals. Lucia wasn’t surprised by that. She’d heard hundreds of speeches by her father over the years. He was a true master at public speaking even when presented with an audience who despised him.

King Gaius knew when to lie, when to give false hope, and when to make promises of gold when, more often than not, such promises ultimately meant nothing.

Still, such speeches given at key times were more than enough to prevent riots. More than enough to keep Limerians in check and rebel numbers low.

People clung to the possibility of hope.

Timotheus did not speak of hope. He told the truth but gave no details, making him sound like more of a liar trying to conceal his misdeeds than the King of Blood ever had.

And, it seemed, he wasn’t finished yet.

“You’ve all seen for yourselves that our world is dying. The leaves are turning brown and dry, more and more every day. Despite the prophesies of Eva’s magic returning to us, you’ve begun to believe this is a sign of the end. But you’re wrong. The sorceress has been reborn. And right now, this very moment, she stands among you.”

A gasp caught in Lucia’s throat as the large projected eyes of Timotheus seemed to look directly at her.

And the eyes of the immortals who hadn’t moved or spoken since Timotheus’s speech began collectively widening with shock.

A bolt of panic shot through Lucia, and all of a sudden it was as if no amount of pristine white garments could stop her from feeling completely naked.

“Before the burden of visions was passed on to me,” Timotheus said to the crowd, “it was Eva who bore the weight of them and foretold that a girl born in the mortal world would become as powerful as an immortal sorceress. I can now confirm that Lucia Eva Damora is the sorceress we’ve been waiting a millennium for. Lucia, show yourself.”

Silence continued to reign in the mirrored square, a haunting kind of quiet that seemed to consume Lucia, pressing in on every side. A cold trickle of perspiration slid down her spine.

Heart thundering in her chest, she again held tightly to the advice her mother had given her—advice she’d resented for too many years to count.

Pretend to be confident even when you are not.

Pretend to be brave even when you’re so frightened that all you want to do is run away.

Be convincing in this act, and no one will know the difference.

With that thought, Lucia raised her chin and pulled back the hood of the borrowed robes. Every pair of eyes was on her immediately, followed by a collective gasp as the immortals were released from whatever magic Timotheus had used to render them so still and silent.

Then, one by one, their glowing, beautiful faces filled with awe. Each immortal, including Mia, surprised Lucia by sinking to their knees before her.





CHAPTER 5


    CLEO


   LIMEROS



Cleo, Magnus, and the remaining two guards carefully journeyed from the surface of the frozen lake to the top of the cliffs. There, Cleo grimaced as she glanced over the side at the sharp drop the king had taken to the bottom—a drop she would have taken as well had Magnus not pulled her back.

Cleo turned to Magnus, ready to speak her concerns about the king’s plans aloud, but something stopped her cold. Magnus was bleeding.

Immediately, she tore off a long piece of fabric from the hem of her crimson gown—which, thanks to the misadventures of the last day, was already ripped in several places—and took hold of his injured arm.

Magnus turned to her, surprised. “What?”

“You’re injured.”

He looked down at the sleeve of his black cloak that had been sliced through to the skin, and his expression relaxed. “It’s just a scratch.”

Cleo glanced at the guards in their red uniforms, which perfectly matched the color of her gown. They stood a dozen paces away, speaking quietly with each other. She could only guess at the subject—witch’s potions, elemental magic, or dead kings come back to life.

Cleo would rather focus on something tangible at the moment. “Hold still,” she said, ignoring Magnus’s protest. “Actually, let me get a closer look at the wound. I want to make sure it’s not too severe.”

Grudgingly, Magnus pulled up the edge of his cloak and rolled up the sleeve of his tunic. Cleo cringed at the sight of the bleeding sword wound but was composed again in an instant as she started to bind it with the strip of silk.

He watched her with interest. “You’re much more skilled at this than I would have thought. Have you treated injuries before?”

“Once” was all she was willing to say, preferring to concentrate on her task.

“Once,” he repeated. “Whose wound did you bind?”

Cleo neatly tucked the ends of the fabric into the binding before she met his gaze. “No one important.”

“Let me take a wild guess, then. Jonas? It seems he’s the one most likely to be injured at any given time.”

She cleared her throat. “I think there are topics more pressing than the rebel to discuss right now.”

“So it was Jonas.” He let out a hiss of a sigh. “Very well, a subject for another time.”

“Or never,” she said.

“Or never,” he agreed.

The king had left them with instructions. Speaking only to Magnus—to Cleo he gave only sneering looks over his shoulder—he said he would meet them that evening at a village inn a half day’s journey east. The king claimed that this village was on the path that lead to his mother.

To Cleo, everything the king said amounted only to lies on top of lies.

“Are you sure I can’t convince you to go to Auranos?” Magnus asked, admiring the tight binding she wove around his arm. “It would be safer there for you.”

“Oh, yes, that’s exactly what I want right now. To be safe and sound and entirely out of the way. Perhaps you can send these guards with me to make sure I do exactly as I’m told.”

He raised a brow and turned his attention to her face instead of her handiwork. “I know you’re upset.”

She couldn’t help but let out a hollow laugh at the understatement. “That man”—she jabbed her index finger in the direction the king and his guards had gone to return to Amara’s villa—“is going to be the death of both of us. Actually, he nearly just was!”

“I know.”

“Oh, you do? That’s wonderful. Wonderful, really.” She began pacing back and forth in short, worried steps. “He’s lying to us—you have to know that.”

“I think I know my father. Better than anyone else, certainly.”

“And what? You’re counting on him having a conscience? That he’s suddenly decided to change his ways? That, magically, he’s suddenly chosen to be the solution to all our problems?”

“No. I said I know him, which means I don’t trust him. People don’t change, not as quickly as that. Not without having previously proved that they are capable of change. He’s been hard and cruel and driven all my life . . .” He frowned and went silent again, his gaze scanning the frozen lake far below them.

“What’s wrong?” Cleo said as gently as she could so as not to discourage him from talking. The way he frowned . . . he must have been remembering something.

“I have these memories . . . they’re very foggy and distant. I can’t even be sure they’re memories instead of dreams. I was young, barely old enough to walk on my own. I remember having a father who was not nearly as cold as my mother. One who told me stories before I went to sleep.”

“Stories of demons and war and torture?”

“No. Actually . . .” He frowned deeply once again. “I recall one about a . . . dragon, but a friendly one.”

She stared at him blankly. “A friendly dragon.”

He shrugged. “Perhaps it was only a dream. Many things from my past seem like dreams to me now . . .” He trailed off, his expression turning stern. “I don’t want you involved in this. How can I convince you to go to Auranos?”

“You can’t, and this is the last we’ll speak of it. I’m in this with you, Magnus. No matter what happens.”

“Why?”

Cleo looked up at him, her heart full. “You know why,” she said softly.

His expression grew pained. “Such cryptic language has always confused me. Perhaps you still don’t trust me enough to speak plainly.”

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