Love, vengeance, and greed spark a deadly quest for magic in the third book of the Falling Kingdoms series
Prince Magnus has just witnessed torture, death, and miracles during the bloody confrontation that decimated the rebel forces. Now he must choose between family and justice as his father, the cruel King Gaius, sets out to conquer all of Mytica. All Gaius needs now are the Kindred—the four elemental crystals that give godlike powers to their owner. But the King of Blood is not the only one hunting for this ancient, storied magic. . . .
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Morgan Rhodes is the pen name for a popular author of urban fantasy. She is also the author of Falling Kingdoms and Rebel Spring.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The young man woke up surrounded by fire and chaos.
Swords clashed nearby in a violent battle in the shadow of the mountains. The sharp cries of the dying sliced through the cool early morning breeze. He could smell the acrid scents of both fear and hate from those who fought for their lives. He tasted the copper tang of the blood that had sunk into the ground.
It was the taste of blood that had awoken him.
He pressed his hands against the dry earth, flames licking at his bare skin, and tried forcing himself to his feet. He failed, his body screaming from the effort.
As his vision cleared he took a better look around. He was at the edge of a camp that was currently under siege. To his left, about fifty paces away, was a forest. It was dry and sparse and dying, but it offered more protection than his exposed position by the battleground.
Two men—one short, one tall, both wearing red guard uniforms—approached him, their swords drawn.
“What do we have here?” the short one said. “A slave thinking he can escape?”
“I’m no slave.” His voice cracked, and his throat felt as dry and brittle as the ground beneath him.
“Forget your clothes somewhere, boy?” the taller guard said.
He glanced down at his bare skin. “Something like that.”
“Doesn’t matter,” the tall guard snapped. “You won’t need clothes when you’re dead. We’ll make this quick.”
The tall guard brought his blade down hard, but the young man managed to roll out of its way just in time. He pushed himself up to his feet, his legs as weak as a newborn colt’s. Muscles screaming, he staggered toward the forest line.
“We don’t have time to chase after one runaway slave.” The tall guard spoke loud enough to be heard above the noise of battle.
“You’d rather have your throat cut by a rebel back there?” the short guard said.
“The king would prefer—”
“I don’t give a damn what the king would prefer. Let’s go.”
The forest was sparse, but the young man found a dry bush to hide behind. Its branches scratched his sensitive skin, but he stayed quiet and still. The guards ventured closer, whacking at the meager foliage with their swords.
He looked down at his hand and flexed. How long would it take before he got his strength back? He’d already waited an eternity to be free.
I’ve awakened before my time.
“Maybe we should let him go,” the shorter guard said, his previous bravado vanishing as fear entered his voice. “Maybe he’s the one who set the fire back there. He could be dangerous.”
“Don’t be a coward. Strays can lead to more trouble, and more strays. I want his blood on my blade before we do anything else.”
They drew closer, and he stumbled away from his hiding spot. As he fled, he tripped on the tangled roots of a large oak tree and fell, hard, to the ground. The guards swiftly found him, and he scrambled backward until he hit the tree’s thick trunk.
“You must feel so pathetic right now,” the tall guard sneered. “Hiding in a forest, naked, begging for your life.”
He did feel pathetic. It was not an emotion he savored. “I’m not begging.”
“Oh, you’ll be begging soon enough. I promise.” The guard gave him a smile that revealed just how much he enjoyed inflicting pain and suffering on those who were smaller and weaker than him.
“What do you think?” the tall guard asked his companion. “Shall we take his hands before we kill him? Or his feet, so he can’t try to run again?”
“Perhaps we should bring him back to the dungeon to rot with the other captured rebels.”
“That’s no fun.” He touched the tip of his sword under the young man’s chin, forcing him to meet the guard’s cruel gaze. “Who are you, boy? A slave who would bow to my whip while working on the king’s road? Or are you a rebel who mistakenly believes he can change the destiny of this kingdom?”
“Neither.” His lips were parched and his breathing was shallow.
The sword wrenched his head up higher, biting into his flesh. “Then who are you?” the guard asked.
“I . . .” he began, very softly, “. . . am a god.”
“A god, are you?” The guard snorted with amusement. “I’m curious . . . how much do gods bleed?”
“Wait.” The shorter one’s voice was trembling. “His eyes. Look at his eyes!”
The tall guard withdrew his sword and took a shaky step back. “What—?”
The young man unclenched his fist and looked down at his right hand. Etched into his palm was a triangle. Its edges glowed with the same blue light that now emanated from his eyes.
“You’re a demon,” the guard whispered. “That’s what you are.”
“I already told you what I am. But perhaps you weren’t listening.” He pushed himself back up to his feet. The symbol on his hand grew brighter as he held it out to the guard. “Shall I show you instead?”
Suddenly, a single flame appeared on the dry ground in front of them. It flickered, then shot up and licked the guard’s boot. In a thin line, the fire snaked around his ankle and then began to wrap itself around his calf and thigh. He batted at it and touched it with his hand, which only made it grow even mightier. It clawed at his wrist and writhed around his arm like a bracelet.
“What’s happening?” The guard reached out for assistance, but his short friend staggered away from him.
“Does it hurt yet?” the young man asked calmly. “If not, just give it a moment. It will.”
The flames spread until the guard’s legs, torso, arms, and, lastly, his confused, fearful face were all ablaze. The fire then turned from orange to blue.
That was when the guard began to scream.
The other guard stood frozen in place with horror, watching as his friend blazed like a torch in the early morning light. Suddenly, the flames grew wilder, leaping up thirty feet into the air and taking the guard with them. Finally, the guard stopped screaming.
Like a glass sculpture landing on a marble floor, his body shattered into a million pieces.
He turned to the guard he’d spared. “Run.”
Eyes wide with terror, the guard turned and fled.
With what little energy he’d had now depleted, he collapsed to his knees. The symbol on his hand faded to only a trace, a mark resembling an old scar. The ground still smoldered where the tall guard once stood, although there was nothing left of him but an already fading memory.
Finally, his pain eased. His thoughts became clear, and a small smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
“Only the beginning,” he whispered as darkness rose up to cover him like a thick cloak.
Soon he’d make them all burn for what they’d done to him.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Rufus’s voice was as distracting as a persistent horsefly. Jonas sent his fellow rebel an impatient look through the darkness.
“Really. Which part?”
“All of it. We need to get out of here while we still can.” Rufus craned his thick, sweaty neck to scan the line of trees surrounding them, guided only by the light of a single torch they’d shoved into the loose soil. “He said his friends would be here any moment.”
He was referring to the Limerian guard they’d captured after discovering him straying too close to the edge of the forest. He was currently tied to a tree, unconscious.
But an unconscious guard wasn’t any use to Jonas. He needed answers. Though he had to agree with Rufus on one thing: They were swiftly running out of time, especially since they were so close to a village infested with the king’s red-uniformed minions.
“Of course he said that,” Jonas said. “It’s called a bluff.”
“Oh.” Rufus raised his brows, as though this hadn’t occurred to him. “You think?”
A week had passed since the rebel attack on the road camp in eastern Paelsia beneath the Forbidden Mountains. A week since Jonas’s most recent plan to defeat King Gaius had gone horribly awry.
Forty-seven rebels had descended upon the sleepy campground at dawn in an attempt to seize the road engineer, Xanthus, and the Limerian heir, Prince Magnus, to hold as hostages against King Gaius.
They’d failed. A flash fire of strange blue flames had burned everything in its path, and Jonas had barely escaped with his life.
Rufus had been the only other rebel waiting at the meeting spot later that morning. Jonas had found him standing there with tears streaming down his dirty face, trembling with fear and rambling about fire magic and witches and sorcery.
Only two of forty-seven had been accounted for. It was a crushing defeat in far too many ways, and if Jonas thought about it too much he could barely see straight, could barely function beyond his guilt and grief.
His plan. His orders.
Desperately trying to push aside his own pain, Jonas had immediately begun to gather information about other potential survivors—anyone who’d been captured alive and carted away.
The guard they’d found wore red. He was the enemy.
He had to have answers that could help Jonas. He had to.
Finally, the guard opened his eyes. He was older than most other guards, with graying hair at his temples. He also walked with a limp, which had made him easier to catch.
“You . . . I know you,” the guard muttered, his eyes glittering in the meager torchlight. “You’re Jonas Agallon, the murderer of Queen Althea.”
He threw these words like weapons. Jonas flinched inwardly, but showed no sign that the most heinous lie ever told about him caused him injury.
“I didn’t kill the queen,” he growled.
“Why would I believe you?”
Ignoring Rufus’s squeamish expression, Jonas walked a slow circle around the restrained guard, trying to determine how difficult it would be to get him talking.
“You don’t have to believe me.” He leaned closer. “But you’re going to answer some questions for me now.”
The guard’s upper lip drew back from his yellow teeth in a snarl. “I’ll tell you nothing.”
He’d expected that, of course. Nothing was ever easy.
Jonas pulled the jeweled dagger from the sheath on his belt. Its wavy silver blade caught the moonlight, immediately drawing the guard’s attention.
It was the very same weapon that had taken his older brother from this world. That vain and pompous Auranian lord had left it behind, embedded in Tomas’s throat. This dagger had become a symbol to Jonas, representing the line he’d drawn in the sand between his past as the son of a poor wine seller who toiled every day in his father’s vineyard, and his future as a rebel, certain he would die fighting for what he believed in most: freedom from tyranny for those he loved. And freedom from tyranny for those he’d never even met before.
A world without King Gaius’s hands wringing the necks of the weak and powerless.
Jonas pressed the dagger to the guard’s throat. “I suggest you answer my questions if you don’t want your blood to be spilled tonight.”
“I’ll do more than bleed if the king learns I’ve done anything to help you.”
He was right—the crime of assisting a rebel would undoubtedly lead to torture or execution. Likely both. Though the king enjoyed making pretty speeches about the united kingdoms of Mytica with a broad smile on his handsome face, he did not receive the nickname “the King of Blood” by being fair and kind.
“One week ago, there was a rebel attack on the road camp east of here. Do you know about it?”
The guard held his gaze unflinchingly. “I heard the rebels died screaming.”
Jonas’s heart twisted. He clenched his hand into a fist, aching to make this guard suffer. A tremor shook through him at the memory of last week, but he tried to focus on the task at hand. Only the task at hand.
Rufus raked his fingers through his messy hair and paced back and forth in nervous lines.
“I need to know if any rebels were captured alive,” Jonas continued. “And I need to know where the king is holding them.”
“I have no idea.”
“I don’t believe you. Start talking or I promise I’ll cut your throat.”
There was no fear in the guard’s eyes, only a mocking edge. “I’ve heard so many fearsome rumors about the leader of the Paelsian rebels. But rumors aren’t facts, aren’t they? Perhaps you’re nothing more than a Paelsian peasant boy—not nearly ruthless enough to kill someone in cold blood. Not even your enemy.”
Jonas had killed before—enough that he’d lost count. In a foolish war that tricked Paelsians into allying with Limerians against Auranos. In the battle at the road camp. He’d only fought in order to strike down his enemies and bring justice to his friends, his family, and his fellow Paelsians. And to protect himself.
There had been meaning behind those deaths, even if that meaning had been jumbled and unclear. He fought for a purpose, believed in something.
He took no pleasure in taking lives, and he hoped he never would.
“Come on, Jonas. He’s useless,” Rufus said, his voice twisting with anxiety. “Let’s go while we still can.”
But Jonas didn’t budge, and forced himself to focus on the task at hand. He hadn’t come this far to give up now. “There was a girl who fought in the battle named Lysandra Barbas. I need to know if she’s still alive.”
The guard’s lips twisted into a cruel grin. “Ah, so this is why you’re so driven for answers. This girl belongs to you?”
It took Jonas a moment to understand his meaning. “She’s like a sister to me.”
“Jonas,” Rufus whined. “Lysandra’s gone. She’s dead. Obsessing about her is only going to get us killed, too!”
Jonas cast a glare at Rufus that made the boy wince, but it was enough to make him shut his stupid mouth.
Lysandra wasn’t dead. She couldn’t be. She was an incredible fighter—skilled with a bow and arrow like no one Jonas had witnessed before.
Lysandra had also been opinionated, demanding, and incredibly annoying from the first moment he’d first met her. And if she still lived, Jonas would do anything to find her.
He needed her—both as a fellow rebel and as a friend.
“You must know something.” Jonas pressed the dagger closer to the guard’s throat. “And you’re going to tell me right now.”
No matter how high the stakes, Jonas would never give up. Not until his very last breath.
“This girl . . . ,” the guard said through clenched teeth, “is she worth your life?”
Jonas didn’t have to think twice. “Yes.”
“Then I’ve no doubt she’s every bit as dead as you are.” The guard smirked despite the trickle of blood now sliding down his throat. He raised his voice. “Over here!”
A crunch of dirt and a snap of branches were all that warned of the half-dozen Limerian guards that now burst into the small forest clearing. Their swords were drawn, and two of them carried torches.
“Drop your weapons, rebel!”
Rufus swung his fist at an approaching guard, but missed by a mile. “Jonas, do something!”
Rather than drop the dagger, Jonas sheathed it, then drew the sword he’d stolen from Prince Magnus last week before Jonas had managed to escape. He hoisted it up in time to block a blow aimed directly for his chest. Rufus tried to fight back, punching and kicking, bu...
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Book Description Listening Library (Audio), 2014. Audio CD. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M1611763045
Book Description Penguin Group USA, 2014. CMD. Book Condition: Brand New. unabridged edition. 5.75x5.25x1.50 inches. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # zk1611763045