In a subterranean world where light is everything, can Sarn and his son stop the encroaching darkness?
He’s an untrained mage spying on the men responsible for his best friend’s demise–with his young son in tow. And those men are hunting for magic-stealing rocks to fuel a zealot’s quest to destroy all magic.
But they release an ancient evil by mistake, and it’s hungry for a certain mage and his son. Who will survive the dark terror lurking under the mountain?
Curse Breaker: Faceted is the action-packed story, pitting Sarn and his son against monsters in an epic struggle to survive and thrive in a world that hates magic.
Fans of Anthony Ryan, Julliet Marillier, Michael J. Sullivan, Mercedes Lackey, Margaret Weis, and Tracy Hickman will enjoy Sarn’s struggle against dark forces to save his son and himself.
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Magical Spies (Chapter 1 of Curse Breaker Faceted)
Witches and Woe, the spy knows—
life’s shadows, mirrors, and lost troves.
—Old Shayarin Proverb
“This is not a fun ad-ven-ture.” Ran poked Sarn in the ribs.
“I know, and I’m sorry.” Sarn peered around the stack of crates screening them from view and fought the urge to punch something. Dirk and his four cronies rounded a bend and vanished from sight. How could they still be at liberty? He’d reported them to Jerlo and Nolo four weeks ago. Why hadn’t they informed the Guards?
What did he have to do—catch these fools red-handed? He had back in May, but no arrests had been made. Granted, policing fell outside the purview of the Rangers, but Jerlo should have reported my findings to the Guard Captain. Sarn gnashed his teeth in frustration. Crouching low, he checked out their situation on his head map.
Ran poked him again interrupting his speculation. “You promised a nice ad-ven-ture.”
“Shh, we don’t want them to hear us. They’re bad people, remember?”
“They are?” Ran clamped one hand on Sarn’s shoulder and stood on tiptoe to peer over the crates. “I don’t see anyone.”
“They entered a storeroom.”
Well, their icons had. What were they doing in there—something illegal? Sarn’s hopes rose. Maybe he could summon the Guards and let them tidy up the last piece of the nightmare marring his best friend’s death.
“Can we go? You can’t see them.”
Ran tugged Sarn’s arm intent on towing him if necessary. The sight of his four-year-old son trying to budge him startled a laugh out of Sarn. It was so unexpected. He met his son’s determined green eyes, and reality smothered his mirth.
If he summoned a Guard, what would happen to Ran? Few knew the boy existed. Sarn chewed the inside of his cheek as he checked his head map again but other than show the positions of all five men, it gave him no further insight. And why should it? Since when was his magic ever helpful?
An image overtook his sight. In it, a terrified Ran plummeted toward an endless spiral of stairs. Sarn closed his eyes unable to forget the magic tearing out of him to catch his son. Point taken, you are helpful sometimes.
The memory crumpled into a ball then a tongue of emerald flame consumed it as his magic resumed its sulk. It wasn’t a fan of the whole surveillance thing either.
“I want to go out now. This is boring.” Ran kicked a crate.
“Yeah, it is, but I have to do this.” Sarn sighed and ran a hand through his hair dislodging his hood. Maybe his son was right. The longer they stayed here, the more likely they would be discovered.
Besides, four weeks of on and off surveillance had turned up nothing—not a single box of Angel’s Dust beyond the one he’d reported a month ago. But those creeps had to be involved in the murderous mess back in May, and they’d pay for their part. If he could just convince someone in a position of authority of their wrongdoing, Dirk and his friends would be arrested before his secret could come out. And his son would be safe.
“Why do you have to do this?”
How to explain to a four-year-old about drugs, murder, and demons? “You remember Shade, right?” At his son’s nod, Sarn continued. “Well it’s partly their fault he’s dead.”
And partly Shade’s fault too. Sarn glanced over the waist-high stack of crates. He should entertain his son instead of endangering the boy. What the hell was he doing here? Ran’s unblinking gaze asked the same question.
Jerlo’s words repeated like heartburn, and Sarn cringed. Who died and made you lead investigator?
Maybe I should move along and find something more constructive to do. But Dirk and company had to be part of the illegal aliel trade.
Grief tightened Sarn’s chest and closed his throat. The drug had addled his demon-ridden friend and contributed to Shade’s death and thirteen others. More innocent lives would become entangled in that same hallucinogenic web if someone didn’t stop this.
“Papa?” Ran poked him.
Sarn put an arm around his son. At four years old, Ran was a real pip and precocious too. Judging by his furrowed brow, Ran was thinking hard about something, never a good sign.
“Why’re we here?”
“Because I know they’re up to something bad.” And their victims deserved justice. Sarn rubbed his chest, but the pain remained. He would speak for them, the drugged out, their shattered families and the dead. Because no one else would. His fist tightened securing that promise.
As if cued, Sarn’s sixth sense fired off a warning. He skulked behind a full pallet, his mystified son at his side.
Ran kneaded the sacks shielding them from view. “How do you know that?”
For a second, Sarn had no idea what his son was talking about. His mind had drifted back to the dead and their loved ones.
Ran shot him an annoyed look, which he deserved. “That they’re up to something bad.”
Trust his son to ask the hard questions.
“I just know. Now hush, something’s happening.”
Before Ran could ask what, Sarn covered his son’s mouth. Five icons on his head map headed in this direction–Dirk and his compatriots. Panic rose, but Sarn fought it with cold logic. They were hidden in the middle of a recent shipment of goods. No one saw us arrive, so no one knows we’re here. Sarn told himself, but he didn’t believe it. Dirk was a canny bastard.
And the shipment itself raised questions. Where did the shippers find so much non-ensorcelled wood? Not in Shayari, her forests were ninety percent enchanted and intelligent enough to kill ax-wielding men. Yet he was surrounded by wood of the non-enchanted variety despite the impossibility of it. Where had it come from? Could it be illegal?
The bells of Mount Eredren rang thirteen times. Ran’s fingers twitched as he counted the peels. Standing on tiptoe again, Ran whispered, “thirteen,” in Sarn’s good ear followed by, “I’m hungry.”
Of course, he was. Ran was always hungry. Sarn nodded, and his stomach gurgled a request for lunch. Maybe he should stop for now and come back later.
Sarn consulted his map again. Where were these jokers going? Not toward him and his son. I should follow and find out.
“I’m hungry.” Ran poked Sarn again.
And maybe I should fetch my son some lunch. Sarn sighed. Why was nothing ever easy? Because he was a twenty-year-old single parent and his orphaned upbringing did him no favors.
“We’ll go in a few minutes. I just want to see what they’re up to.”
Ran scowled. “You promise?”
Thanks to the magic in his blood, promises were binding. So instead of answering, Sarn crept down the cluttered tunnel, sliding between stacks of numbered crates. He paused at each one long enough to commit its numerical sequence to the hundred already in his memory. They might be important.
As the additions settled into their slots, Sarn froze. A pattern had been building since his first visit back in May, and it was now iron clad. He glanced at the new containers and identified each one’s contents except one. Sarn approached the box whose number diverged from the pattern. He had to open it, but he had nothing to open it with except magic, and that could get complicated.
Voices stopped Sarn. He dropped into a crouch and pulled his son close to his body, quieting the unhappy boy. Miles of naked stone bounced every word Dirk and his cronies uttered turning their conversation into a jumble of meaningless sounds. Sarn cursed his ill-luck. Partial deafness in one ear did him no favors.
There was one other way to glean information, but should he risk it? Sarn mulled the idea over while his son fidgeted. Not seeing any other choice, he gritted his teeth and touched the stone floor. Magic surged out of his hand and green fire raced down the tunnel. Information threatened to wash his consciousness away in its sparkling cascade. The glow of his green eyes increased giving away his position until he squeezed his eyes closed.
“Let go, Papa. I want to play with the magic.” Ran squirmed but to no avail.
Controlling the magic took all his concentration, so Sarn shook his head. He fought to keep the magic from crawling over the crates and up the walls. The damn thing wanted to investigate every rock and crevice. But he kept steering it toward the six man-shapes lighting up his map. His magic had already identified five of the men present—Dirk, Ragnes, Crisso, Gorfen, and Villar. Who was the sixth?
His magic walked up the newcomer’s legs investigating his—no—her body for clues, but it sent none back. Something about her made his magic recoil. Other than her gender and presence, Sarn received nothing more about her. So, he pulled on the magic forcing it to return, but it fought him and strained to delve deeper on its own mission.
The Litherians—his magic whispered in an eerie repeat of last month’s mental tussle.
They’re dead and dusted. But Sarn’s magic refused to listen to him. And why should it? What was he but its untrained bearer? After he dealt with Dirk and company, he had to make time to fix that.
‘You need to play with the magic,’ Ran had said last month, and his son was right.
But the idea chilled Sarn, so for now, he imagined the magic as a radiant green cloth furled inside him. And shock of shocks, after one more assay, his magic receded.
Sarn exhaled the breath he’d been holding. How long before his magic won the contest of wills? He rubbed his aching forehead. Not long, judging by the pain pounding in his skull. Maybe if I slept more, I’d have less difficulty.
Aralore resisted the urge to draw on the five men. Live steel might improve the discourse or at least hurry it along. Her fortyish interlocutor—Dirk, was it? —looked like he’d lost a battle with a statue. Plaster coated his clothes and sweat had smeared the dust into a sticky paste. Every time the gray-streaked leader opened his mouth, excuses fell out.
Aralore squeezed the hilt of her sword, but none of the sheep ogling her noticed thanks to her too-long sleeves. A garden had thrown up on the dress she wore creating a hideous floral pattern. But while wearing the garish thing, no one gave her a second glance. Not even these fools. Its ugliness fit right in with the décor of the mountain stronghold.
Why did people live in this crazy place? Its ancient builders had been insane. They’d carved an entire city inside a mountain instead of on top of it, which would have been the smart thing to do. And she needed these idiots to hurry the hell up. She had deadlines to meet, a prelate to greet and an important test to conduct. Time was wasting, but she fought the urge to tap her foot. Giving away her impatience would only slow things down.
She fixed her gaze on the leader of this rabble. “Where is it? Either you can deliver what you promised, or you can’t. Make up your damned mind already.” So, she could slay them all and be done with this ridiculous errand. Aralore eyed the other four men and sized them up. Please give me an excuse to exercise my blade. It’s thirsty.
In her pocket, she had a sample of the cure for all that was wrong with Shayari. But did she have sanction to use it? No. Nor did she have a pure enough sample to make a dent in the magic saturating her homeland. But her initial tests were intriguing enough to warrant acquiring more—a lot more. That’s why she was here in this disturbing place talking to a bunch of fools unworthy of her exalted presence.
Patience wins all duels. Aralore tightened her grip on the leather wrapped hilt until her knuckles complained. Short-sighted fools ran her order. Let them. She knew what needed to be done. And she would do it as soon as these louts handed over more of the cure for Shayari’s magical ills. Then Shayari would burn. Her hand relaxed, and a smile quirked her lips until she caught the tail end of Gray—Dirk’s? —speech.
Her sword left its scabbard so fast it blurred. She tapped Dirk’s throat right below his Adam’s apple. One flick of her wrist and his thick neck would be missing a head. So tempting—
“I am not some doe-eyed chit swayed by posturing or pretty words. Produce or die.”
“You can’t take all of us on,” said a rotund fellow cleaning his nails with a knife to Dirk’s right. He leaned against a pallet. His dark eyes dismissed her as nothing more than a slender girl in a frilly skirt.
Aralore rolled her eyes at his machismo. “If you want to bet your life on my skill, so be it.” With her off hand, she threw the dagger hidden up her other sleeve. It slammed point first into the pallet pinning his arm. “Shall I toss again? Or have I made my point?” This she directed at Dirk whose face colored under the plaster. Or was it flour dusting his person?
“You’ve made your point.” His glare appended a silent ‘psycho bitch’ to the end of his statement.
“A Seeker on her own is never alone as long as she’s doing God’s work. You’d better remember that.”
With a flourish, Aralore sheathed her sword and hid a smile at the hostile glares Dirk’s friends shot her. At least they now understood their position. Yes, she represented a religious order—one with militant roots and aspirations of civil strife. In times of crisis, people found faith. Since God did not always provide said strife, his faithful had to light the pyre and burn down the establishment for Him. All Aralore required now was that brand.
“You have two hours to get me more of this.”
Aralore withdrew a black stone from her pocket and cradled it in the palm of her hand. Its matte facets drank in the light, dimming the ever-present lumir crystals studding the ceiling. They were another anomaly, another symptom of the magic plaguing Shayari’s green miles. But they would soon be gone.
“Swear you will get what I want. Swear it on this stone.”
Shadows swelled in the corners of the room discomfiting the four men and their spokesman. Aralore held herself rigid by an exercise of will. Any good Shayarin knew darkness was not just the enemy of light but the call sign of the Adversary. Invoking it came with risks, but Shayari teetered. With one good shove, it would fall ushering in a rebirth free of magic, so technology could take its rightful place as the prime mover of the future. Holding to her belief, she steeled herself to play with the devil’s rocks.
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