Immortal Reign – Morgan Rhodes

It was her favorite dream. The golden dagger lay before Valia on a velvet cushion. Beautiful. Powerful. Deadly. She picked it up, the golden hilt ice cold against her skin. The thought of the dark blood magic within it, restrained only by the symbols of elementia etched into the blade’s surface, sent a shiver up her spine. This weapon held magic that could be wielded to shape the world however she wanted it. No conflict, no strife, no pain. Her decisions, her kingdom—all of it. With this blade in her grip, everyone would worship and love her. Yes, this was her favorite dream—a shining gem in a deep, dark cave of nightmares. And she allowed herself to enjoy every moment of it. At least, until Timotheus decided to interrupt. The immortal pulled Valia’s unconscious mind into a field of green grass and wildflowers—a stark change from her usual view of ice and snow from her tiny, isolated cottage in the mountains of northern Limeros.

In this dream, she could smell the sweet pollen and feel the warmth of the sun on her skin. She looked into Timotheus’s golden eyes. He was millennia old, but still had the face and body of a handsome man in his early twenties. He’d looked the same since he first came into being, made from the elements themselves, one of the six immortals first created to protect the Kindred and watch over the world of mortals. The sight of him filled her with equal amounts of annoyance and dread. “The end is coming,” Timotheus said. His words sent a chill through her down to the very marrow of her bones. “When?” she asked as calmly as she could. He was standing only two paces away from her in the field of colorful flowers. “I don’t know precisely,” he said.

“Could be tomorrow. Could be decades from now.” Annoyance now took precedence over dread. “Your timeline is rather unreliable. Why are you bothering me with this nonsense? I don’t care what happens or when.” He pressed his lips together, studying her carefully for a moment before responding. “Because I know that you care. That you always have.” This immortal knew her far better than she’d like. “You’re wrong, Timotheus.

As always.” He shook his head. “Lying was never your strongest ability, my old friend.” Valia’s jaw tightened. “I was having a wonderful dream before you interrupted. Get to whatever point you came here to make, since I’d really like to get back to it.” His eyes narrowed as he studied her. Always studying, always watching. He was unnerving, this immortal. Even more so than the others.

“Have the deepening lines on your face led you to any epiphanies about life?” he asked. Valia resented the mention of her lost youth. She’d smashed the last mirror in her cottage only yesterday, hating the aging woman it had reflected. “Your tendency to speak in riddles has never been your most endearing trait, Timotheus.” “And your lack of empathy has never been yours.” She laughed, as cold and brittle as an icicle hitting the frozen ground. “Do you blame me?” He raised a brow as he walked a slow circle around her. Rather than follow his movements, she focused on a cluster of yellow daisies to her left. “You go by a different name now,” he said. “Valia.

” Her shoulders tensed. “I do.” “A new name changes nothing.” “I disagree.” “I should have visited your dreams years ago. I apologize for my neglect.” His gaze moved to her left hand. “I imagine that troubles you even more than the lines on your face.” Heat flew to her cheeks at this blunt observation, and she slid her freakishly misshapen hand into the deep pocket of her cloak. “A mere whisper of air magic can do wonders to hide this during my waking hours.

” “Whom do you hide from anymore? You’ve chosen a life of solitude.” “That’s right,” Valia hissed. “My life, my choice. And none of your business. And what does it matter anyway? If the end is near, as you say, be it tomorrow or a century from now, then so be it. Let it end—all of it! Now go away. My dreams are private. My life is private, and that’s how I like it.” When her voice broke at the end, she hoped he hadn’t noticed. “I’ve brought you a gift,” he said after several long moments of silence.

“Something I thought you might want.” In his hands, he held a flat, jagged shard of shiny black rock. Valia stared at it with shock. It was the Obsidian Blade—an ancient, magical weapon of limitless possibilities. “You know what magic this could allow you to wield,” he said. “And how it might help you.” Breathless, all she could do was nod in reply. Valia reached out, first with her cursed hand and then with her good one. Afraid to touch it, afraid to give in to the fresh hope that it teased after so many years of growing despair. Then hesitation set in.

“What do you want in return for this gift?” she asked quietly. “A favor,” Timotheus replied. “One that you will grant me without question when the day comes for me to ask it.” She frowned. “If the end is coming, do you have a plan? Have you told the others? What about Melenia? I know she can be horribly vain and selfish, but she’s also powerful, smart, and ruthless.” “Indeed, she is. She reminds me daily of someone else. Someone lost to us so many years ago.” Valia focused on the daisies again, unwilling to meet the immortal’s searching gaze. “Melenia is more useful to you than I could ever be.

” When she forced herself to look up at him again, there were no answers in his dark golden eyes. “A favor,” he repeated. “Do you agree or don’t you?” Her need for immediate answers faded as a familiar greed rose up within her, too thick to swallow back down. She needed this gift, needed it to help strengthen her fading magic and recover her youth and beauty. To help her control what she still could in this seemingly uncontrollable existence. The Obsidian Blade was only a fraction as powerful as the golden dagger she dreamed about, that she desired more than anything. But she knew she needed it. Desperately. Perhaps the past didn’t matter anymore. Only magic mattered.

Only survival mattered. Only power mattered, in whatever form she could possess it. Finally, Valia took the Obsidian Blade from Timotheus, the weight of it a great comfort after so many years of pain and struggle. “Yes, Timotheus,” she said evenly. “I agree.” He nodded. “My gratitude to you. Always.” Then the immortal and the dream world he’d pulled her into faded away to darkness. When Valia woke, tucked into her small cot with the hearth’s fire burned down to glowing embers, the jagged hilt of the blade was still in her grip.

CHAPTER 1 JONAS PAELSIA “You can’t escape your destiny.” Jonas lurched up from the hard wooden floor so quickly that a wave of dizziness slammed into him. Disoriented, but with dagger in hand, he scanned the small room to locate exactly what had torn him out of a deep sleep. But there was nothing there except a beautiful princess with long raven-black hair asleep on the small cot. A tiny baby lay at her side, swaddled in a piece of cloth ripped from Jonas’s cloak the night before. The newborn’s eyes were open wide and staring directly at Jonas. Violet eyes. Bright . like glowing jewels. His breath caught.

What—? Lucia moaned softly in her sleep, stealing his attention away from the baby for a moment. When his gaze returned, the baby’s eyes were sky blue like her mother’s, not violet. Jonas shook his head to clear it. Lucia let out another cry from her slumber. “Bad dreams, princess?” Jonas muttered. “Can’t say I’m that surprised, given what we survived last night.” Their journey to get to Lucia’s father and brother had been interrupted by Lucia giving birth during a massive rainstorm. Jonas swiftly found them a room at a nearby Paelsian inn so Lucia could recover her strength before they continued onward. She shifted beneath the blankets, her face twisting. “No .

” she whispered. “Please, no . no . ” The unexpected vulnerability in her voice tore at him. “Princess . wake up,” he said, louder this time. “You . you can’t . No . I—I won’t let you .

” Without thinking, Jonas sat down on the edge of the bed. “Lucia, wake up.” When she didn’t respond, he took hold of her shoulders to gently shake her awake. In an instant, Jonas was no longer in the small bedroom. He was standing in the middle of a village, and the world was on fire. Flames shot up as tall as the Forbidden Mountains, their heat an immediate, searing brand on Jonas’s flesh. The painful flames didn’t crackle like those of a campfire; they screeched like a vicious beast from the darkest corner of the Wildlands. Through the wall of destruction, Jonas watched with stunned disbelief as cottages and villas were set ablaze—people screaming for help and mercy before the flames devoured them whole, leaving nothing but black ashes where they had once stood. Jonas was paralyzed. He could not cry out or run from the burning pain.

All he could do was watch in horror as the destructive fire began to form something recognizable—the figure of a gigantic, monstrous man. This creature of fire stared down at another figure— that of a cloaked girl standing defiantly before him. “Do you finally see the truth, little sorceress?” the creature snarled, each word the lick of a fiery whip. “This world is flawed and unworthy, just as all mortals are. I will burn all this weakness away!” “No!” The hood of the girl’s cloak blew backward, revealing her flowing black hair. It was Lucia. “I won’t let you do this. I’ll stop you!” “You’ll stop me, will you?” The creature began to laugh and stretched out his burning arms. “Yet you’re the one who’s made all this possible! Had you not awoken me after all these centuries, none of this would be happening.” “I didn’t awaken you,” she said, her tone more uncertain now.

“The ritual with Alexius . yes, I awoke the others. But you—you’re different. It’s like you awoke yourself.” “You underestimate the reach of your magic—of your very existence. Melenia knew this. That’s why she envied you just as she did Eva. Perhaps this is why she wanted you dead after you’d served your purpose. Just like your mother wanted you dead.” Lucia staggered back from him, as if his words were physical blows.

“My mother feared my magic.” She turned her face away from the monster long enough for Jonas to see the tears streaking down her cheeks. “I should have let her kill me!” “Your mortal life is the only one I still value, little sorceress. Take your rightful place by my side, and together we will rule the universe.” Lucia stared at the fire Kindred for a moment in silence. “I don’t want that.” The fire god chuckled. “You lie, little sorceress, especially to yourself. Ultimate power is all any mortal wants. You would allow your family, your friends, even your own child, to be destroyed if it meant you could achieve it.

Embrace this, little sorceress. Little goddess.” Trembling now, Lucia clenched her fists at her sides, and she screamed, “NEVER!” The ear-piercing sound froze the fire god in place. In the next moment, he exploded into a million crystal-blue shards, each falling away to reveal the room at the inn behind them. And the girl sleeping in the small bed. Lucia’s dark lashes fluttered. She opened her eyes, and her gaze locked on Jonas. “What . what in the hell did I just see?” Jonas asked, his voice raspy. “Was that just a dream? Or was it a vision of the future?” “You were in my head just now,” she whispered.

“How is that possible?” “I . I don’t know.” Her eyes widened. “How dare you invade my privacy like that!” “What—?” Jonas suddenly found himself airborne, as if a large invisible hand had grasped him and thrown him back from the bed. He hit the far wall hard and fell to the floor with a grunt. The baby began to wail. Lucia gathered the child in her arms, her glossy eyes filled with outrage. “Stay away from me!” He rubbed the back of his sore neck as he pushed himself to his feet and scowled at her. “You think that I did that on purpose? I was only trying to wake you from your nightmare. I didn’t know that would happen!” “I’m beginning to wonder just how much magic you hold inside you.

” “Yeah, me too.” He willed himself to be patient. “I didn’t know I could enter your dreams . like . like . ” “Like Timotheus can,” she hissed. A Watcher. An immortal who’d lived for millennia. Timotheus lived in the Sanctuary, a world apart from theirs, and Jonas didn’t trust him any more than he did the fire Kindred in Lucia’s dream. “This is Timotheus’s doing,” Jonas mused.

“It has to be.” “Get out!” Lucia snapped. “Listen, I understand that you had a rough night. We both did. But you’re being completely irrational right now.” She thrust her hand toward the door. At her command, it flew open and slammed against the wall. Her cheeks were red and tear-streaked. “Leave me alone with my daughter!” The baby’s cries hadn’t stopped for a single moment. Was he supposed to simply ignore what he’d seen in Lucia’s dream just because she’d woken up in a foul mood? “I was trying to help you!” “Once you get me to my father and Magnus I won’t need any more help from you, rebel.

” She jabbed her finger in the direction of the door. “Are you suddenly deaf? I said get out!” Before he knew it, Jonas found himself shoved out into the hallway by a blast of air magic, the door slamming shut in his face. So this was the thanks he got for defying his own damn prophecy and saving her life last night by very nearly giving his own: a door magically slammed in his face the morning after. “Doesn’t matter,” he said aloud through clenched teeth. “This is almost over. Can’t be soon enough for me.” As soon as he delivered the Limerian princess to her hateful family, his association with the Damoras would officially and thankfully come to an end. In a fouler mood than any in recent memory, he descended the inn’s stairway. He focused on finding some breakfast to fill his empty stomach. A traditional Paelsian breakfast of runny eggs and stale bread would be perfect, he thought.

He didn’t expect to find the exotic fruits and vegetables that graced the dining tables of shiny, pampered Auranians or stick-up-their-arses Limerians. This close to the western wastelands, he’d be lucky to get a wilted piece of cabbage or partially rotting tomato to go along with his meal. And he was just fine with that! “Jonas.” He froze momentarily at the unexpected greeting as he entered the shadowy, nearly vacant tavern. Instinctively, he reached for the dagger hanging from his belt. But when his gaze fell upon a familiar face, his scowl was replaced by a grin. “Tarus?” he asked, stunned. “Am I seeing a spirit right now, or is that really you?” The young boy with messy red hair and a memorable face full of freckles grinned brightly back at him. “It’s really me!” Without hesitation, Jonas embraced his friend tightly. This welcome face from his past worked as an immediate balm for his wounded soul.

“It’s so good to see you again!” Tarus Vasco had given his heart and soul to the rebel cause after his kid brother had been killed in King Gaius’s battle to take control of Auranos. Later, after a failed uprising in which countless rebels had been slaughtered, both Tarus and Lysandra had been captured and had nearly lost their heads at a public execution. Lysandra. The loss of a girl who’d begun to mean so much more to him than just a fellow rebel was still fresh and raw. Any reminder of her made Jonas’s heart ache with grief and regret that he hadn’t been able to save her. So many memories came along with Tarus’s face—both good and bad. All Jonas had wanted when he’d accompanied the boy back to his home village was for Tarus to be safe, but there was no such thing as “safe” in Mytica anymore. Tarus gripped him tightly by his upper arms. “I did what you told me to do. I’ve learned to fight as well as any trained soldier.

You’d be proud of me.” “I have no doubt about that.” “I’m relieved that you managed to escape.” Jonas frowned. “Escape?” Tarus lowered his voice. “Is the witch asleep? Is that how you managed to slip free from her control?” Jonas suddenly became acutely aware that the tavern was completely empty apart from the three men who stood silently behind Tarus like hulking shadows. “You’ve been waiting down here for me,” Jonas said slowly and carefully. Tarus nodded. “As soon as the innkeeper sent word last night that you’d arrived with the witch, we got here as fast as we could.” “You’re rebels.

” Jonas spoke softly, but he could see the truth now right in front of him. “Of course we are. We heard what happened during Empress Amara’s speech—that the witch managed to put you under her dark spell. But it won’t last. My grandmama said a witch’s magic dies when she does.” This almost made Jonas laugh. Tarus had always had tales to share that he’d learned from his grandmother to help explain the unknown. Jonas had once dismissed magical stories as amusing but utterly worthless. So much had changed since then. “I promise we will help free you from her evil grasp,” Tarus said gravely.

“I know you wouldn’t be with Lucia Damora of your own free will.” Jonas flicked a wary glance at the other men. They didn’t look at him with concern like Tarus did. The nearby wall torch reflected in their cold, dark eyes. They were filled with distrust.

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