War brought them together. Love will tear them apart.
Princess Cleo of Mytica confronts violence for the first time in her life when a shocking murder sets her kingdom on a path to collapse. Once a privileged royal, Cleo must now summon the strength to survive in this new world and fight for her rightful place as Queen.
The King of Limeros’s son, Magnus, must plan each footstep with shrewd, sharp guile if he is to earn his powerful father’s trust, while his sister, Lucia, discovers a terrifying secret about her heritage that will change everything.
Rebellious Jonas lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country cruelly impoverished—and finds himself the leader of a people’s revolution centuries in the making.
Witches, if found, are put to death, and Watchers, immortal beings who take the shape of hawks to visit the human world, have been almost entirely forgotten. A vicious power struggle quickly escalates to war, and these four young people collide against each other and the rise of elementia, the magic that can topple kingdoms and crown a ruler in the same day.
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Morgan Rhodes lives in Ontario, Canada. As a child, she always wanted to be a princess--the kind that knows how to wield a sharp sword to help save both kingdoms and princes from fire-breathing dragons and dark wizards. Instead, she became a writer, which is just as good and much less dangerous. Along with writing, Morgan enjoys photography, travel, and reality TV, and is an extremely picky yet voracious reader of all kinds of books. Under another pen name, she's a national bestselling author of many paranormal novels. "Falling Kingdoms" is her first high fantasy. Follow her on Twitter @morganrhodesya.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Table of Contents
She’d never killed before tonight.
“Stay back,” her sister hissed.
Jana pressed against the stone wall of the villa. She searched the shadows that surrounded them, briefly looking up at the stars, bright as diamonds against the black sky.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she prayed to the ancient sorceress. Please, Eva, give me the magic I need tonight to find her.
When she opened her eyes, fear shot through her. On the branch of a tree a dozen paces away sat a golden hawk.
“They’re watching us,” she whispered. “They know what we’ve done.”
Sabina flicked a glance at the hawk. “We need to move. Now. There’s no time to waste.”
Keeping her face turned away from the hawk, Jana pushed away from the safety of the wall to follow her sister to the heavy oak and iron door of the villa. Sabina pressed her hands against it, channeling the magic that had been strengthened by the blood they’d spilled earlier. Jana noticed that Sabina’s fingernails still bore traces of red in the cuticles, and she shuddered, remembering. Sabina’s hands began to glow with amber light. A moment later, the door disintegrated into sawdust. Wood was no barricade against earth magic.
Sabina sent a victorious smile over her shoulder. Blood now trickled from her nose.
At her sister’s gasp, Sabina’s grin faded. She wiped it away and entered the large home. “It’s nothing.”
It wasn’t nothing. Using too much of this temporarily enhanced magic could harm them. Could kill them if they weren’t careful.
But Sabina Mallius was not known to be the cautious one. She hadn’t paused earlier tonight in using her beauty to lead the unsuspecting man from the tavern to his fate, while Jana had hesitated far too long before her sharp blade finally found its mark in his heart.
Sabina was strong, passionate, and completely fearless. Heart in throat as she followed Sabina inside, Jana wished she could be more like her older sister. But she’d always been the careful one. The planner. The one who’d seen the signs in the stars because she’d studied the night skies all her life.
The prophesied child had been born and she was here in this large and luxurious villa—built of sturdy stone and wood compared to the small, poorer straw and mud cottages in the village nearby.
Jana was certain this was the right place.
She was knowledge. Sabina was action. Together they were unstoppable
Sabina cried out as she turned the corner of the hallway up ahead. Jana quickened her pace, her heart pounding. In the dark hallway, lit only by wall-set torches that flickered their meager light on the stone walls, a guard had her sister by her throat.
Jana didn’t think. She acted.
Thrusting out her hands, she summoned air magic. The guard lost his grip and flew back from Sabina, slamming into the wall behind her hard enough to crush his bones. He crumpled to the ground in a heap.
Sharp pain sliced through Jana’s head, agonizing enough to make her whimper. She wiped at the warm, thick blood that now gushed from under her nose. Her hand trembled.
Sabina gingerly touched her injured throat. “Thank you, sister.”
This fresh blood magic helped speed their steps and clear their vision in the darkness of the unfamiliar, narrow stone hallways. But it wouldn’t last long.
“Where is she?” Sabina demanded.
“I’m trusting you.”
“The child is here. I know she is.” They proceeded a few steps more down the dark hallway.
“Here.” Jana stopped outside an unlocked door.
She pushed it open and the sisters moved toward the ornately carved wooden cradle inside the room. They looked down at the baby, swaddled in a soft rabbit’s fur coverlet. Her skin was pale white with a healthy, rosy glow to her chubby cheeks.
Jana adored her instantly. The first smile she’d been capable of for days blossomed on her face. “Beautiful girl,” she whispered, reaching into the cradle to gently pick up the newborn.
“You’re certain it’s her.”
“Yes.” More than anything else in her seventeen years of life, Jana was positive of this. The child she held in her arms, this small, beautiful baby with sky-blue eyes and a fuzz of hair that would one day be black as a raven’s wing, was the one prophesied to possess the magic necessary to find the Kindred—four objects that contained the source of all elementia, elemental magic. Earth and water, fire and air.
The child’s magic would be that of a sorceress, not a common witch like Jana and her sister. The first in a thousand years, since Eva herself had lived and breathed. There would be no need for blood or death to play any part in this child’s magic.
Jana had seen her birth in the stars. Finding this child was her destiny.
“Put my daughter down,” a voice snarled from the shadows. “Don’t hurt her.”
Jana spun around, clutching the infant to her chest. Her eyes fell on the dagger the woman pointed toward them. Its sharp edge glinted in the candlelight. Her heart sank. This was the moment she’d been dreading, had prayed wouldn’t come to pass.
Sabina’s eyes flashed. “Hurt her? That’s not what we plan to do at all. You don’t even know what she is, do you?”
The woman’s brows drew together with confusion, but fury hardened her gaze. “I’ll kill you before I allow you to leave this room with her.”
“No”—Sabina raised her hands—“you won’t.”
The mother’s eyes grew wide and her mouth opened, gasping. She couldn’t breathe—Sabina was blocking the flow of air to her lungs. Jana turned away, face screwed up in misery. It was over in a moment. The woman’s body fell to the ground, still twitching but lifeless, as the sisters sidestepped her and fled the room.
Jana gathered her loose cloak around the baby to hide her as they left the villa and ran into the forest. Sabina’s nose bled profusely now from using so much destructive magic. Blood dripped to the snow-covered ground.
“Too much,” Jana whispered as their steps finally slowed. “Too much death tonight. I hate it.”
“She wouldn’t have let us take her any other way. Let me see her.”
Feeling oddly reluctant, Jana held the baby out.
Sabina took her and studied the child’s face in the darkness. Her gaze flicked to Jana and she gave her sister a wicked grin. “We did it.”
Jana felt a sudden rush of excitement, despite the difficulties they’d faced. “We did.”
“You were incredible. I wish I could have visions like you do.”
“Only with great effort and sacrifice can I have them.”
“It’s all a great effort and sacrifice.” Sabina’s voice twisted with sudden disdain. “Too much of it. But for this child, one day magic will be so easy. I envy her.”
“We’ll raise her together. We’ll tutor her and be there for her and when the time comes for her to fulfill her destiny, we’ll stand by her side every step of the way.”
Sabina shook her head. “You won’t. I’ll take her from here.”
Jana frowned. “What? Sabina, I thought we agreed to make all decisions together.”
“Not this one. I have other plans for the child.” Her expression hardened. “And apologies, sister, but they don’t include you.”
Staring into Sabina’s suddenly cold eyes, Jana at first didn’t feel the sharp tip of the dagger sink into her chest. She gasped as the pain began to penetrate.
They’d shared every day, every dream . . . every secret.
However, it would appear, not every secret. This was not something Jana would have ever thought to try to foresee.
“Why would you betray me like this?” she managed. “You’re my sister.”
Sabina wiped away the blood that still trickled from her nose. “For love.”
When she yanked out the blade, Jana collapsed to her knees on the frozen ground.
Without a backward glance, Sabina swiftly walked away with the child and was soon swallowed by the dark forest.
Jana’s vision dimmed and her heart slowed. She watched as the hawk she’d seen earlier flew away . . . leaving her to die alone.
SIXTEEN YEARS LATER
“Alife without wine and beauty isn’t worth living. Don’t you agree, princess?” Aron slung his arm around Cleo’s shoulders as the group of four walked along the dusty, rocky country path.
They’d been in port for less than two hours and he was already drunk, a fact not unduly startling when it came to Aron.
Cleo’s glance fell on their accompanying palace guard. His eyes flashed with displeasure at Aron’s proximity to the princess of Auranos. But the guard’s concern wasn’t necessary. Despite the fancy jeweled dagger Aron always wore on a sheath hanging from his belt, he was no more dangerous than a butterfly. A drunk butterfly.
“I couldn’t agree more,” she said, lying only a little.
“Are we almost there?” Mira asked. The beautiful girl with long, dark, reddish hair and smooth, flawless skin was both Cleo’s friend and her older sister’s lady-in-waiting. When Emilia decided to stay home due to a sudden headache, she’d insisted that Mira accompany Cleo on this trip. Once the ship arrived in the harbor, a dozen of their friends chose to remain comfortably on board while Cleo and Mira joined Aron on his journey to a nearby village to find the “perfect” bottle of wine. The palace wine cellars were stocked with thousands of bottles of wine from both Auranos and Paelsia, but Aron had heard of a particular vineyard whose output was supposedly unparalleled. At his request, Cleo booked one of her father’s ships and invited many of their friends on the trip to Paelsia expressly in search of his ideal bottle
“That would be a question for Aron. He’s the one leading this particular quest.” Cleo drew her fur-lined velvet cloak closer to block out the chill of the day. While the ground was clear, a few light snowflakes drifted across their rock-strewn path. Paelsia was farther north than Auranos, but the temperature here surprised her nonetheless. Auranos was warm and temperate, even in the bleakest winter months, with rolling green hills, sturdy olive trees, and acres upon acres of rich, temperate farmland. Paelsia, by contrast, seemed dusty and gray as far as the eye could see.
“Almost there?” Aron repeated. “Almost there? Mira, my peach, all good things come to those who wait. Remember that.”
“My lord, I’m the most patient person I know. But my feet hurt.” She tempered the complaint with a smile.
“It’s a beautiful day and I’m lucky enough to be accompanied by two gorgeous girls. We must give thanks to the goddess for the splendor we’ve been greeted with here.”
Watching the guard, Cleo saw him briefly roll his eyes. When he noticed that she had seen him, he didn’t immediately look away as any other guard might. He held her gaze with a defiance that intrigued her. She realized she hadn’t seen—or, at least, noticed—this guard before today.
“What’s your name?” she addressed him.
“Theon Ranus, your highness.”
“Well, Theon, do you have anything to add to our discussion about how far we’ve walked this afternoon?”
Aron chortled and swigged from his flask.
“I’m surprised, since you are the one who’ll be required to carry the cases of wine back to the ship.”
“It’s my duty and honor to serve you.”
Cleo considered him for a moment. His hair was the color of dark bronze, his skin tanned and unlined. He looked as if he could be one of her rich friends waiting on the ship rather than a uniformed guard her father had insisted accompany them on this journey.
Aron must have been thinking the exact same thing. “You look young for a palace guard.” His words slurred together drunkenly as he regarded Theon with a squint. “You can’t be much older than I am.”
“I’m eighteen, my lord.”
Aron snorted. “I stand corrected. You are much older than me. Vastly.”
“By one year,” Cleo reminded him.
“A year can be a blissful eternity.” Aron grinned. “I plan to cling to my youth and lack of responsibility for the year I have left.”
Cleo ignored Aron, for the guard’s name now rang a bell in her mind. She’d overheard her father as he exited one of his council meetings briefly discuss the Ranus family. Theon’s father had died only a week ago—thrown from a horse. His neck had broken instantly.
“My sympathies for the loss of your father,” she said with sincerity. “Simon Ranus was well respected as my father’s personal bodyguard.”
Theon nodded stiffly. “It was a job he did with great pride. And one I hope to have the honor to be considered for when King Corvin chooses his replacement.” Theon’s brows drew together as if he hadn’t expected her to know of his father’s death. An edge of grief slid behind his dark eyes. “Thank you for your kind words, your highness.”
Aron audibly snorted and Cleo shot him a withering look.
“Was he a good father?” she asked.
“The very best. He taught me everything I know from the moment I could hold a sword.”
She nodded sympathetically. “Then his knowledge will continue to live on through you.”
Now that the young guard’s dark good looks had caught her attention, she found it increasingly difficult to return her gaze to Aron, whose slight frame and pale skin spoke of a life spent indoors. Theon’s shoulders were broad, his arms and chest muscled, and he filled out the dark blue palace guard uniform better than she ever would have imagined possible.
Guiltily, she forced herself to return her attention to her friends. “Aron, you have another half hour before we head back to the ship. We’re keeping the others waiting.”
Auranians loved a good party, but they weren’t known for their endless patience. However, since they’d been brought to the Paelsian docks by her father’s ship, they’d have to keep waiting until Cleo was ready to leave.
“The market we’re going to is up ahead,” Aron said, gesturing. Cleo and Mira looked and saw a cluster of wooden stalls and colorful worn tents, perhaps another ten minutes’ walk. It was the first sign of people they had seen since they’d passed a ragged band of children clustered around a fire an hour ago. “You’ll soon see it was well worth the trip.”
Paelsian wine was said to be a drink worthy of the goddess. Delicious, smooth, without equal in any other land, its effects did not lead to illness or headaches the next day, no matter how much was consumed. Some said that there was strong earth magic at work in the Paelsian soil and in the grapes themselves to make them so perfect in a land that held so many other imperfections.
Cleo wasn’t planning to sample it. She didn’t drink wine anymore—hadn’t for many months. Before that, she’d consumed more than her share of Auranian wine, which didn’t taste much better than vinegar. But people—at least, Cleo—didn’t drink it for the taste; they drank it for the intoxicating results, the feeling of not a care in the world. Such a feeling, without an anchor to hold one close to shore, could lead one...
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