Sarn faces an ancient monster with only a ragtag bunch of reluctant magical constructs at his side. If he fails, his home will fall.
But doubts assail Sarn. He’s not sure he’s the hero their world needs. And if he became that man, would he still be the father his son needs?
In a world where belief powers magic, how can Sarn prevail when his doubts undermine his magic?
Find out who in Curse Breaker Falls, the action-packed sequel to Curse Breaker Faceted.
Fans of Nicholas Eames, 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. Get Curse Breaker Falls today!
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Mapping Trouble (Chapter one of Curse Breaker Falls)
Mount Eredren groaned, and the ground under Sarn’s knees trembled. Ran rushed to his side, frightened of the shaking.
“I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” And if I can, I’ll put a stop to it.
After all, something had attacked the Queen of All Trees’ magical glade before she’d sent them away, and that something might still be trying to break through. Was her sylvan refuge truly a place outside of time as it had seemed or was it somewhere near enough he could go to her and—what? Offer a mythological magical entity his aid?
What can you do? You can’t even get your magic to behave most of the time. A sarcastic voice reminded Sarn, and it sounded too much like Bear for comfort. But it wasn’t. That entity had gone mute since the Queen of All Trees had returned them to his cave.
“How’ll you find out?” Ran regarded Sarn.
Sarn shrugged. “The only way I know how—by magic.”
“Is the Queen Tree okay?”
“I don’t know, son. That’s what I want to find out.”
“And the cause of the shaking?”
But first, Sarn touched the cold stone of his home and scanned its nooks and crannies one more time. While he mucked about with magic, his son would be vulnerable. Whatever had attacked the Queen of All Trees might already be here.
Ran looked up at him with scared green eyes that thankfully didn’t glow—yet.
Sarn bit his lip and pushed that thought away. Now wasn’t the time to freak out about his four-year-old son eventually inheriting his power. With luck, that day would take forever to come.
Ran’s gaze darted around the cave as the ground shook again. He clamped his stuffed bear against his skinny chest and chewed on its ear. If that sarcastic spirit Bear was still inhabiting the ratty thing, it gave no sign. Bear’s button eyes stayed dark and as impenetrable as the black magic-stealing mist they’d fled from earlier.
But that mist was gone. The Queen of All Trees did something to get rid of it. I need to find out what. If Ghost Bear knew, it wasn’t saying. Sarn glared at the now inanimate toy in his son’s arms.
The ground heaved hard enough to send Ran crashing into him. Sarn caught his wide-eyed son in a one-armed embrace, and the dust dotting his son’s tunic reflected the green glow of his eyes. Those pinpricks were a remnant of the Dryskellions’ grace.
Do what I can’t, son of Adam, the last Dryskellion had said mind-to-mind before she’d disintegrated into a silver mist with the others.
‘Do what I can’t.’ Her final words rang in Sarn’s head bringing her sacrifice to mind, but he suppressed the memory before it could replay. Her final words galvanized Sarn. He let go and his magic flowed.
Emerald light gushed out of his hand, carrying his awareness through the door to the tunnel beyond and away from his son. The Queen of All Trees defeated those killer tentacles. Ran will be okay, Sarn told himself as the distance between them mounted, stretching the tie binding them. He held his son huddled against his chest tight, but he could just barely feel the boy trembling at his side. His mind raced away from his body and his nervous son, riding the magic’s sparkling wave.
His magic swept over everything it passed in its relentless search for answers. Candles lit on his head map. They marked every person his magic encountered, turning them into a cloud of fireflies all heading somewhere. What galvanized them? Some new danger, a resurgence of one already defeated or did they know something he didn’t? Is the Queen of All Trees in danger?
Sarn searched his mental map for her silver symbol as he followed the twisting tunnels deeper into the lowest level under the mountain. A wall of white light sprang up, knocking his magic and his sight away from the Ægeldar. How did I get here?
Her light stabbed the darkness. This shield reminded him of the one around the Queen of All Trees’ glade. It must be her doing.
Are you still in there, my Queen? Earlier she’d had trouble getting around the Litherians’ wards—until he’d done something to help. Bear still needed to explain that.
When Sarn ran his hands over the sparkling wall, patterns emerged. He counted a hundred and forty-four interlocking circles before realizing there were chains within chains. It was the most elegant spell work he’d ever seen. Was this barrier meant to keep something in or out?
Had the Queen of All Trees defeated that many-armed monster, or was it still in there trying to escape?
Just the thought of that creature from the pit sent a cold shudder through Sarn. He reeled as something hooked his magic and yanked him through the bowels of the mountain—and the wall of his cave. What the hell?
Sarn flew right over the head of his kneeling son. A breeze ruffled Ran’s hair and the boy looked up, still chewing on his stuffed bear’s ear. But if he saw anything other than the finger-long stalactites dripping on his head, his little face didn’t show it. Sarn caught one last glimpse of his discarded body, still clutching his son in a one-armed embrace, then he passed through a wall into yet another dim tunnel. The Lower Quarters had miles of them because the Litherians had gotten lazy when carving them out.
Where’s this thing taking me?
Outside Mount Eredren, a lone man opened and closed his mouth and the most inconceivable things fell out. Dirk wanted to go into the enchanted forest? Why the hell would he want to go there? It was about to be destroyed.
The Adversary stared at the fortyish fellow. Feeling his disguise slip, he pulled his everyman’s face into a mask of skepticism. Some of his dark presence spilled through before he could stop it, and Dirk shivered.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
Dirk nodded and gestured to those confounded standing stones. “I want to see what they want to show me. I can meet your interested buyer—what’s his name? —later.”
“You mean Straymos.”
Dirk ignored the Adversary and regarded those menhirs. Their double ring of trouble enclosed the meadow. Well, there went that plan, for now.
Beyond those creepy standing stones, the enchanted forest extended massive branches, and they arched over the invisible cordon those damned menhirs maintained. Both the forest and the menhirs were a relic of a dead age. Someone should rip them out of the ground and toss them out like all the other rubbish left over from the so-called ‘Age of Magic.’
“Dirk! Listen to me.”
But the man wasn’t listening to anyone. Without a backward glance, Dirk broke into a run heading for those damned menhirs and the forest giants beckoning to him. Dirk looked ridiculous with his dirt-smeared clothes flapping in the wind. Blood had soaked into the hem of his trousers and ichor had streaked his tunic. What a picture the conman made to the tradesman and green-uniformed Rangers he passed. Of course, they didn’t give Dirk more than a passing glance as they strode toward the mountain brooding behind the Adversary.
Run along to your little lives, your petty concerns. Pay no attention to the dark force tearing your world apart. The Adversary finger-waved to those oblivious mortals. His bland countenance fell into shadow as a pawn dropped onto the grass at his feet.
The Adversary picked it up and cursed. The Queen of All Trees had made her play right under his nose. Damn, she was good. He hadn’t seen nor sensed her meddling. But she’d drawn Dirk off the path he’d laid out for the conman. Damn her!
Setting his plans to send more black lumir crystals out into the world aside, the Adversary examined the black pawn. The irony of it made his lips quirk into a crooked smile under his deep hood. Finally, he’d found a worthy opponent. Now it’s my turn, Queenie, he sent on the wind blowing out of the northwest. And what a turn I’ll take.
She didn’t answer. Rumor claimed she never did. Talking was beneath her. But she would beg in the end, they all did. And he would bring her into the darkness and bind her like all the rest of the mighty who’d fallen at his feet.
Whistling a jaunty tune, the Adversary tossed the pawn into the air. It spun nine times widdershins—a good sign—then vanished into his pocket. In a swirl of dark cloth, the Adversary turned to follow Dirk. This round wasn’t over yet. Nor could the conman escape so easily, not while he carried a piece of the Adversary in his heart.
Before the Adversary had taken more than a couple of steps, a reverberation in the magic dragged his attention to a black hole cut in the mountain’s feet. Well, well, well, what have we here?
Every strain of magic had its own key, and every spell, its own song. But this one was strange. Either there were several mages or one mage slinging spells from more than one magical discipline.
Perhaps Aralore’s merry band of zealots had left a few mages alive. That didn’t seem possible given the sword-loving priestess’ proclivities. Might this be a distraction?
What are you up to Queenie? The Adversary strained his ears for more information. His bones were tuning forks. Each one vibrated in sequence until he identified the tones he was hearing.
Three distinct tunes merged into two somewhere close judging by their volume. The Adversary rushed through that vertical bar of black back into the mountain. He could reclaim Dirk later. After all, there was no escape from the Adversary, not for a man who’d sold his soul for a few precious coins.
Tunnels flashed past at dizzying speeds away from the Ægeldar. Sarn struggled but couldn’t break free. What caught me? And how did it catch me?
Sarn felt around for it, but he had no idea what he was looking for. What did a ‘capture’ spell look like? Was that even what had ensnared him?
The magic infecting his blood and bones didn’t come with a grimoire. Other than creating shields, mapping the area around him and jumping long distances, most of the magic he worked was accidental. None of the magic he’d ever touched required crafting an actual spell.
Sarn poked his gift—he had two of them, but only the green one peered out of his eyes. It didn’t offer any insights. His other gift slept curled around his heart like a giant white cat made of fire. It didn’t even twitch when he prodded it.
Ahead, a swarm of fireflies—no, people—flowed toward a hole in the ground leading to the sunlit outdoors. They halted, and the invisible force ceased towing him.
Did the crowd call me? Or was she out there calling all her subjects? Is the Queen of All Trees in danger?
Something blocked the restive crowd’s egress. Sarn sent his magic over the barrier seeking her radiant presence and ignited a dozen new symbols on his map—Guards. No doubt someone had dispatched them to keep the Indentured underground where they belonged.
As if he’d heard his unkind thoughts, one of the Guards turned. He was a thirtyish man washed out by the magic’s warm green light.
“Papa? I want to go out, now.” Ran tugged Sarn’s tunic to get his attention, but the sensation was muted by distance, and so was his son’s voice.
I just need a few more minutes. Sarn tried to say to his son. But when he opened his mouth, no words issued. His body wasn’t there, just his mind, and the connection between them wasn’t strong enough to send speech back. Oh well, he only needed another moment.
There was something strange about the Guard digging his hands into the magic. Familiarity sparked a disjointed memory of a shadow falling across iron bars, a bucket of vomit and lines of agony crisscrossing his back. Then it was gone, leaving Sarn even more bewildered than before.
Do I know him? Indeed, there was something familiar about that Guard. What is that Guard feeling around for? Did he drop something? Or could he feel the magic surrounding Sarn.
Magic is a sliding scale, Bear had said. Where did this Guard fall on that scale?
A flick of the Guard’s wrist answered that question. He twisted the magic into a lariat and tossed it before Sarn could dodge. A fiery loop dropped over his head and dragged Sarn down toward the sharp shadows rising around the man in Guardsman blue. But they were just inanimate shadows. The black mist was gone and so were the things that had swum in it, hopefully for good.
“How did you do that?” Sarn asked.
“Who are you?” The Guard tightened the noose.
Sarn shook his head. “I thought I knew, but now I don’t know.”
It hurt to admit that, but the truth refused to be denied, watered down or sugar-coated. Bear’s revelation hours’ earlier that everything had an opposite repeated, and so did the question it raised.
What am I the opposite of?
Not the Guard who’d caught him. A quick scan proved that beyond the shadow of a doubt. The constricting lariat didn’t balance this magical equation. On the contrary, Sarn’s magic massed around him, encasing him in light. Sarn gripped the lariat, but before he could wrench it out of the Guard’s hands, that damned question repeated.
What am I the opposite of?
He’d never had a chance to ask Bear during their harrowing escape and afterward, the stuffed annoyance had gone mute again. The question hung over Sarn’s head like an ax ready to fall. And on its heels, an even more disturbing question waited—what will happen when I meet my opposite?
Because that confrontation was coming. Sarn felt it as keenly as the tie binding him to his son. This Guard wasn’t his opposite, but he wasn’t a mage either. He lived in that gray area between normal and magical—a class of people I didn’t know existed before today.
“What are you?” Sarn started to ask, but Ran yanked on the tie between them with all his might.
“Papa!” Ran packed all the desperation a four-year-old could muster into the shout echoing in Sarn’s soul.
Something must be wrong. But he’d left his son in their cave under the Queen of All Trees’ protection. Ran should be safe there. Then why is he calling me?
Ran tugged harder on the tie between them and a shimmering chain appeared. Promises to his son had forged each link. They were unbreakable, like his will. I must go.
As Sarn thought that, a green flash severed the lariat, freeing him. His magic changed to a pale green cloud, riding the dispersing crowd until something lashed out and grabbed hold of him. This current was stronger than the one before. It sucked him down a black funnel away from everything including his son.
“Papa, come back! I don’t want to lose you.”
I don’t want to be lost, son. His magic screamed, and Ran’s shouts became more frantic as the blackness closed in on Sarn.
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