Shadows lurk in the darkness of the bright kingdom, and the ill winds they bring threaten to topple everything.
Diana Bray finds herself not only the mistress of a whole kingdom, but the mate to a handsome king. Unfortunately, her role as the mother to the heir has been stripped from her by their treacherous foe. Other enemies mumble among themselves at her failure to procure the much-needed child, but her mate, Luca, will hear none of it.
Luca and she go in search of a release from the curse and find themselves presented with a set of tasks. To complete them means to free her, but to fail is certain death, and not the pretty kind. While they face the trials a new foe arises intent on stopping them from putting right the wrongs by whatever means possible.
“I’m not made of glass.”
The scolding came from me and was directed at the dragon king who helped me down the stairs of the castle. He had grasped one of my hands and wrapped his arm around my waist, nearly carrying me over the steps.
“Your legs are weak from your time in bed.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t remind me. Another four days and I would have traded my crown for a handful of dirt I could inhale like a five year old.”
Luca watched my feet like a hawk watches its next meal. “The doctors thought it best.”
My good humor faltered a little as I looked down at my stomach. It was covered by a new set of clothes made especially for me by my bird friend, Pennae, but the cloth couldn’t block out my mental image of the curse markings that tainted my front. Those damned markings kept me from fulfilling my queenly duties to this handsome dragon man at my side.READ MORE
I shook off my black thoughts and looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. “Where are we going again?”
“To the museum,” Luca reminded me as we made it down the first flight of stairs. “Sfetnic has some information he personally wishes to convey to us.”
A familiar face in the form of Cassius appeared at the bottom of the stairs. He paused with his foot on the bottom step and smiled up at us. “There you are. I was just seeing if you needed some help with your beautiful bride.”
I snorted as I tried to wriggle free of one of Luca’s helpful hands. “I have a little too much help already.”
Cassius stepped to one side to allow us to pass. “Tybalt is waiting for you in the courtyard, and a contingency of his guards will follow you to the museum.”
Luca glanced at our friend as we passed him by. “What have your searches of the castle library found?”
Cassius followed behind us and shook his head. “Nothing, I’m afraid. Outside of physical and magic binding spells, black magic with the ability to bind such an innate ability as child bearing was completely unknown to our ancestors.”
Luca pursed his lips. “Then we’ll have to rely on Sfetnic for good news.”
Cassius stopped at the bottom of the next flight of stairs and bowed his head. “Know that I won’t give up, good cousin. We will find the source of this curse and the culprit, and deal with both of them. If you will excuse me, I will continue my search among the personal libraries in the city.” He bowed again before he hurried off.
As I watched his retreating back I couldn’t help but wonder about something. “Does Cassius have wings, too?”
Luca nodded. “Yes, though because he is of the third descent from the main branch they are weak and incapable of bearing his weight.”
My face fell. “That must be frustrating.”
Luca shook his head. “He finds solace in his magic, which admittedly is far more than I could ever hope to do.”
“So how does that work?” I asked him as we made our way down the last flight of stairs. “Your line gets wings and he gets magic?”
“In essence, yes. Magicians have surmised that the blood of the lesser branches, rather than reproduction, focus its strength on enhancing the magic within them so that they at least have a way to survive the harsh world until their line falters on the third generation.”
I winced. “Can’t he get a bride from my world?”
We reached the entrance hall and Luca sighed. “Unfortunately, the Glass of Caelum won’t allow any but those of the first branch down to the nephews of the lesser branches to pass through its portal. “
My face fell. “Damn. . .”
Luca gazed down at me with a soft smile. “You have a big heart, my mate.”
I blushed at the term of endearment. “Flattery will get you a lot of places, but I’d like it to get us to the museum at a quicker pace then you leading me like I’m about to turn into a puddle of bones and skin.”
He chuckled as he looked ahead of us as the front doors were opened out into the courtyard. “Tybalt will give us a quick escort.”
Tybalt stood at the head of a group of a dozen other guards with one hand on the top of the hilt of his sword. An elegant carriage was parked behind them, with four white horses and a white-clad coachman atop the box. The family crest featuring the dragon figured prominently on the doors.
Tybalt bowed low to us as we approached. “Good morning, Your Highnesses. We are ready to leave whenever you desire.”
Luca lifted his gaze to the sky and frowned. “Has anything been seen of the masked people?”
Tybalt shook his head. “No, Your Highness, nor has anyone taken responsibility for. . .” His eyes settled on my stomach.
Luca nodded. “Understood. Now if you would escort us to the museum.”
Tybalt bowed his head and swept an arm toward the carriage. “It would be our pleasure.”
We had a flashy escort in the form of the armored guards atop their horses. This was the first time I’d seen the city in four days, and I continued to marvel at the many different styles of buildings and different people who called the metropolis home. Avius and other changeling species walked past, chatting away with each other and normal humans. Carts rolled by hauling lumber, crates, and fruit, most of which I couldn’t identify.
The people gaped at us, but the soldiers stopped any autograph seekers. We soon arrived at the museum, and climbed out. Mia appeared in the doorway and met us halfway down the steps where her brother sat beneath the warm sun.
Ethan smiled and tipped his cap at us. A pile of sketches sat by his side.
Mia bowed her head. “It’s a pleasure to entertain both of you once more, Your Highnesses.”
Luca looked past her and at the open doors. “Has anything been discovered?”
Mia pursed her lips. “That would be better explained by your adviser. He’s this way.”
She led us to her office where we found the usual disarray that ran in the family, but no sign of Sfetnic. For a moment I worried that one of the stacks of books had toppled over his skinny frame and flattened him. That is, until Mia swept away some paperwork on the floor behind her desk and grabbed a small metal ring with one hand wrapped around a clasp. She pulled on the metal ring and a secret hatch opened in the floor. The hatch revealed a set of narrow wooden stairs and air so stale a mummy’s wrappings would be jealous.
Mia climbed down the stairs and for the first time that day I was glad for Luca’s extra hand as he helped me down the steep decline. The stairs led ever downward some twenty feet below the floor level of the museum and into a whole new, dark world. A few torches illuminated enough of the space for me to tell that we stood in a huge room with dividing walls, but with plenty of bookshelves. Every inch of available crumbling stone wall was covered by the cabinets, and stand-alone bookcases covered the rest of the floor.
No torches hung from the walls, and the whole place was shrouded in a darkness so deep that I couldn’t see my nose in front of my face. Mia set the torch in a hanger on the stair wall and took up a covered lamp from an end table beside the steps. She led us deep into the tall stacks of ancient, musty tomes.
A soft noise came to my ears, and I realized it was the sound of pages being turned ahead of us. I strained my eyes to see another light in that direction, but nothing came to my sight. We rounded the last stand-alone bookcase and the lamp illuminated an open space where a hefty table stood.
The light also illuminated Sfetnic. He sat at the table hunched over a thick tome.
He also sat in complete darkness.
At our coming his eyes flickered up, and the light reflected off his great black orbs. My heart skipped a beat before he returned his attention to his reading. “My apologies for not standing, Your Highnesses. The pages on this ancient treatise are fragile, and the longer the spine is strained by its own pages the more likely the whole of the book would fall apart.”
Luca nodded. “We understand, but have any of them proven useful?”
With a speed I could only envy Sfetnic read through the final four pages and eased the cover shut. I noticed the cover was of some kind of leather, wrinkled by time and the dry atmosphere. The binding itself was made of small metal rings the color of hard rust.
Sfetnic stood and set his bony hand on the cover before he nodded at us. “Yes, Your Highness. This tome is a compilation of the knowledge of one. . .man. He wrote about a certain spell used to seal away stolen souls. I believe this is our best lead in finding a cure to Her Highness’ troubles.”
Luca cast a curious look at the tome and lifted an eyebrow. “The apparent age of the book doesn’t give us hope that the author is alive.”
A strange, bittersweet smile slipped onto Sfetnic’s lips. “The author is still among us, Your Highness, though he hasn’t been alive for over five centuries.”
Mia frowned. “Then a vampire?”
Sfetnic nodded. “Yes.”
My eyes widened. “Vampires are real here?”
Luca folded his arms over his chest and nodded. “Yes. Real, and often very inhospitable to guests, if they can be found at all.”
Sfetnic turned his face away from us and frowned. “I know where this vampire resides.”
Luca’s eyes widened. “You do? How?”
“Because he is my Master.”COLLAPSE