Chapter 1 JONAS—KRAESHIA
Far across the sea in Mytica, there was a golden princess Jonas wanted to save.
And a god of fire he needed to destroy.
However, an obstacle now stood in Jonas’s path on the Kraeshian docks, eating into time he didn’t have to waste.
“I thought you said his sister killed him,” Jonas said to Nic under his breath.
“She did.” Nic’s voice came out as barely more than a rasp as he raked both his hands through his messy, bright red hair. “I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Then how is this possible?”
“I . . . I don’t know.”
Prince Ashur Cortas drew to a stop only a few paces away. He eyed both Jonas and Nic through narrowed, silvery-blue eyes that stood out against his dark tan complexion like the glinting edge of a blade at dusk.
The only sounds to be heard for a few long moments were the squawk of a nearby seabird as it plunged downward to catch a fish and the gentle, steady splash of the water against the waiting Limerian ship with its black and red sails.
“Nicolo,” the raven-haired prince said with a nod. “I know you must be very confused to see me again.”
“I . . . I . . . what . . . ?” was Nic’s only reply. The scattering of freckles over his nose and cheeks contrasted boldly with his blanched complexion. He drew in a shaky breath. “This is impossible.”
Ashur raised a dark brow at the boy, hesitating only briefly before he spoke. “In my twenty-one years of life I’ve come to realize that very little in this world is impossible.”
“I watched you die
.” The last word sounded as if it had been dragged painfully from Nic’s throat. “What was that? Just another lie? Another scheme? Another plan that you didn’t feel the need to tell me about?”
Jonas was surprised that Nic dared to speak to a member of royalty with such insolence. Not that Jonas himself had much respect for royals, but Nic had spent enough time in the Auranian palace, side by side with its princess, to know it wasn’t wise to be this openly rude.
“It was no lie. What happened at the temple was not a scheme.” Ashur swept his gaze over the Limerian ship, which was ready for imminent departure from the Jewel of the Empire’s crowded, busy docks. “I’ll explain more once we’re at sea.”
Jonas’s brows went up at the prince’s commanding and confident tone. “Once we’re
at sea,” he repeated.
“Yes. I’m coming with you.”
“If that’s what you’re planning to do,” Jonas said, crossing his arms. “Then you’ll explain more now
Ashur eyed him. “Who are you?”
Jonas eyed him back. “I’m the one who decides who gets on this ship—and who doesn’t.”
“Do you know who I am?” Ashur asked.
“Well aware. You’re the brother of Amara Cortas, who just recently seems to have made herself the bloodthirsty empress of most of the damn world. And according to Nic, you’re supposed to be dead.”
A familiar form appeared behind Ashur, catching Jonas’s eye.
Taran Ranus had left the docks only a few moments ago, so that he might quickly prepare for an unplanned journey to Mytica. But he was already back. As the rebel drew closer, he swiftly pulled out a sword from the sheath at his waist.
“Well, well,” Taran said as he raised the tip of the sword to Ashur’s throat. “Prince Ashur. What a pleasant surprise to see that you’ve strolled into our midst this morning, just as my friends are working to topple your family’s reign.”
“The general chaos around the Jewel did give that much away,” Ashur said, his tone and demeanor surprisingly serene.
“Why have you come back? Why not stay abroad, chasing after meaningless treasure as everyone says you’re fond of doing?” Chasing after treasure?
Jonas shared an anxious look with Nic. It seemed that very few were aware that the prince had been presumed dead.
“The circumstances of my return are none of your business.”
“Are you in Kraeshia because of . . .” Nic began, then hesitated. “Of . . . what happened to your family? You must know, don’t you?”
“Yes, I know.” Ashur’s expression darkened. “But that’s not why I’m here.”
Taran smirked. “As the true heir to the throne, perhaps you’ll make an excellent tool for negotiations with your grandmother now that your sister’s married the enemy and sailed away.”
Ashur scoffed. “If that’s what you think, then you know nothing about her desire for power—or my sister’s. It’s easy to see that your rebels are vastly outnumbered. This current uprising will be as effective as the chirp of a baby bird in the shadow of a hungry wildcat. What you really need to do is get on this ship and leave while you still have the chance.”
Taran’s smirk disappeared. His brown eyes flashed with outrage. “You don’t get to tell me what to do.”
Jonas felt uneasy about Ashur’s attitude. He seemed to be taking the recent news of most of his family’s massacre in stride. He couldn’t tell if Ashur grieved their loss or celebrated it. Or did he feel nothing at all?
“Lower your weapon, Taran,” Jonas growled, then hissed out a breath. “Why are you back so soon anyway? Didn’t you have belongings to gather?”
Taran didn’t budge. He kept the sharp tip of his sword pressed to Ashur’s throat, his biceps flexing. “The roads are blocked. Granny Cortas has decided that all rebels are to be slain on sight. Since we blew up the city dungeon yesterday, there’s nowhere to put any prisoners.”
“All the more reason for us to go now,” Nic urged.
“I agree with Nicolo,” Ashur said.
The angry squawk of a bird caught Jonas’s attention. He shielded his eyes from the sun and looked up at the golden hawk swooping above the ship.
Olivia was getting impatient. That made two of them.
He willed himself to remain calm. He couldn’t afford to make any rash decisions.
Just then, an image of Lysandra slid into his mind, along with the sound of her laughter. “No rash decisions? Since when?”
she would have said. Since you died and I couldn’t save you.
Pushing his grief away, Jonas forced himself to focus on the prince.
“If you want any chance to board this ship,” he said, “then explain how you’ve managed to rise from the dead only to walk right up to a group of rebels like you’ve only been out for a tankard of ale.”
“Rise from the dead?” Taran repeated, his furious expression giving way to confusion.
Ignoring Taran, Jonas searched for any sign of intimidation in the prince’s demeanor. A signal that he feared for his life, that he was desperate to escape his homeland. But only serenity filled his pale eyes.
It was unsettling, really.
“Have you ever heard of the legend of the phoenix?” Ashur asked smoothly.
“Of course,” Nic replied. “It’s a mythical bird that rose from the ashes of the flames that originally killed it. It’s the symbol for Kraeshia, to show the empire’s strength and ability to defy death itself.”
Ashur nodded. “Yes.”
Jonas raised his eyebrows. “Really?” he said.
Nic shrugged. “I took a class with Cleo on foreign myths once. I paid more attention than she did.” He flicked a wary look at Ashur. “What about this legend?”
“There is also a legend of a mortal fated to one day do the same—return from death to unite the world. Grandmother always believed that my sister would be this phoenix. When Amara was a baby, she died for a brief moment but came back to life, thanks to a resurrection potion our mother gave her. When I recently learned of this, I had the same potion created for me. I’m not sure I truly believed it would work, but it did. And as I rose at dawn in the temple where I’d died the night before at my sister’s hand, I realized the truth.”
“What truth?” Jonas demanded after Ashur fell silent.
Ashur met his gaze. “That I
am the phoenix. And it’s my destiny to save this world from its current fate, beginning with stopping my sister from her dark need to blindly follow in my father’s footsteps.”
The prince fell silent again as his audience of three stared at him. Taran was the first to laugh.
“Royals always think so damn highly of themselves,” he sneered. “Legends of heroes who defy certain death are as old as legends about the Watchers themselves.” Taran glanced at Jonas. “I’m going to cut off his head. If he gets up after that, consider me a believer.”
Jonas didn’t think Taran was being serious, but he didn’t want to take any chances.
“Lower your weapon,” Jonas growled. “I’m not going to tell you again.”
Taran cocked his head. “I don’t take orders from you.”
“Do you want passage on this ship? Then yes, you do
take orders from me.”
But still Taran didn’t budge, and his gaze grew only more challenging.
“You giving Jonas a problem, Ranus?” Felix’s voice boomed out, just before he came to stand at Jonas’s side.
Jonas was grateful that Felix Gaebras—with all his height and muscles—was on his side. A former member of the Clan of the Cobra, a group of assassins who worked for King Gaius, Felix’s ability to cast a deadly and intimidating shadow was no accident.
But Taran was just as deadly and just as intimidating.
“You want to know about my problems?” Taran finally lowered his blade to his side, then nodded at the resurrected royal. “This is Prince Ashur Cortas.”
Felix peered skeptically at the prince with his good eye. After spending the last week imprisoned and being mercilessly tortured for poisoning the Kraeshian royal family—a crime Amara had blamed on him—it was his only
eye; the other was covered by a black eye patch. “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
“He is.” Nic had stayed very quiet, never taking his attention off of the prince, wearing an expression that was equal parts stunned and confused.
“I’m not.” Ashur spoke patiently to Nic.
“It could be a trick.” Nic’s brow furrowed in concentration as he studied the prince carefully. “Perhaps you’re a witch who possesses enough air magic to change your appearance.”
Ashur raised a dark eyebrow, as if amused. “Hardly.”
“Witches are female,” Taran reasoned.
“Not always,” Ashur replied. “There have been a few notable exceptions over the centuries.”
“Are you trying to help your case or not?” Jonas asked sharply.
“He’s Amara’s brother,” Felix growled. “Let’s just go ahead and kill him and be done with it.”
“Yes,” Taran seconded. “On that, we agree.”
Ashur sighed, and for the first time, there was an edge of impatience in the sound. Despite any threats, he kept his attention firmly on Nic. “I understand your hesitation in believing me, Nicolo. It reminds me of your hesitation that night in the City of Gold, when you left the tavern . . . the Beast, I believe it was called. You were drunk, lost, and you looked at me in that alleyway as if I might kill you with the two blades I carried. But I didn’t, did I? Do you remember what I did instead?”
Nic’s pale face flushed in an instant, and he cleared his throat. “It’s him,” he said quickly. “I don’t know how, but . . . it’s him. Let’s go.”
Jonas studied Nic’s face, unsure whether to believe such a promise, even from someone he’d very recently begun to trust. His gut told him Nic wasn’t lying.
And if Ashur wanted to bring a halt to his sister’s evil machinations, believing himself to be this legendary phoenix who’d risen from death, true or not, then he could possibly be an asset to their group.
He wondered what Lys would have to say about this
No, he already knew. She very likely would have put an arrow through the prince the moment he’d appeared.
The glint of Taran’s sword again caught his attention. “If you don’t lower that weapon, I’m going to have Felix chop off your arm.”
Taran laughed, an unpleasant crack of a sound that cut through the cool morning air. “I’d like to see him try.”
“Would you?” Felix asked. “My eyesight’s not as good as it was, but I think—actually, I know
—I could do it real fast. It might not even hurt.” He chuckled darkly as he drew his sword. “No, what am I thinking? It’s going to hurt very badly. I’m no ally to any Cortas, but if Jonas wants the prince to keep breathing, he’s going to keep breathing. Got it?”
The two young men glared at each other for several tense moments. Finally Taran sheathed his weapon.
“Fine,” he said through clenched teeth. The tight smile on his face didn’t match the cold fury in his eyes.
Without a word, he shoved past Felix and boarded the ship.
“Thanks,” Jonas said to Felix under his breath.
Felix watched Taran’s departure with a grim look. “You know he’s going to be a problem, right?
“Great.” Felix glanced at the Limerian ship. “By the way, have I mentioned that I get really seasick, especially with the thought of Amara’s undead brother on board? So if our new friend Taran tries to cut my throat while I’m vomiting off the side of the ship, you’re the one I blame.”
“Understood.” Jonas eyed Nic and Ashur warily. “Very well, whatever fate awaits us on the other side, let’s set sail for Mytica. All of us.”
“Thought you didn’t believe in fate?” Nic muttered as they made their way up the gangplank.
“I don’t,” Jonas said.
But, to be honest, only a small part of him believed that anymore.
Copyright © 2016 by Morgan Rhodes. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.