A Curse Breaker Prequel Novel
Magic is illegal under the mountain, but one warlock-turned-prison guard is no big deal until a baby OwlCat shows up. That kit is his best friend’s grandson. Before Nulthir can take the little fella to safety, he’s attacked by a stranger with a mysterious object that infects him with dark magic and kicks off a dangerous transformation.
Nulthir thought he’d escaped the darkness that nearly destroyed his family, but he was wrong. That evil is now turning him into a monster, while he struggles to protect his friend’s grandson. But the attack was just the opening move in a deadly game designed to trap a powerful young mage. Through that kid, the summoners can create an army of monsters.
Nulthir and his mind-talking OwlCats are in for the fight of their lives, even if they get to the mage first. If they fail, they’ll be fodder for the next wave of monsters. Find out how they stop the monsters who threaten their world. Get Spell of Shadow & Light now!
Spell of Shadow & Light is a prequel to the Curse Breaker series. It contains all three previously published stories, Spell of Wings & Glass, Spell of Bone & Ash, and Spell of Scales & Steel, which were published in the Magic Underground Anthologies plus an all-new novella, Spell of Shadow & Light, with an extended epilogue.
This book can be read as a stand-alone novel. No prior knowledge is needed. Spell of Shadow & Light takes place before Curse Breaker Enchanted, but it mentions events and characters who appear for the first time in Curse Breaker Hidden, so it’s best read after that book if you intend to read the series in order. Otherwise, you’ll know more than some characters. Get the epic tale now and let the OwlCats take you on an adventure like no other.
Spell of Shadows & Light takes place before:
- Curse Breaker Enchanted & its sequels
- Hunter’s Night & its sequels
Spell of Shadows & Light takes place after:
- Relic Hunter
- Mage Hunter
- Demon Hunter*
*Spell of Shadows & Light references events in Demon Hunter and its untitled sequel.
Chapter 1 of Spell of Shadows & Light
Nulthir sloshed through the puddles under the weeping stalactites while the keys clipped to his utility belt jingled. Behind him, men arrested on a variety of felonies slept the night away inside their cells, snoring loudly. There was no escaping that racket either, not down here where everything was made of gray stone or metal, creating a perfect echo chamber. Those snores chased Nulthir through the tunnel, connecting the cellblock he’d just checked with the next one on his rounds. He couldn’t even cover his ears while he guarded the snoring prisoners in case a fight broke out or a lock gave way to a pick.
Nulthir shook his head. It was just another night of guard duty. Or it was until the echoes faded, and a soft ‘neep neep’ pierced the silence that fell.
Oh no. Nulthir stopped and glanced around for the source of those ‘neeps,’ but there was only him and a hell of a lot of rocks in this part of the subterranean complex. He must have hallucinated them. Green Block wasn’t going to check itself, so he’d better secure it before his superiors caught him lollygagging, or they might dock his pay again. Nulthir ducked under a long stalactite, and there it was again.
“Neep. Neep, neep.”
What the hell? Nulthir turned on his heel. He regarded the wispy mist weaving through the cells under the dim blue glow of a lumir crystal that lit the cell-filled cavern behind him until a loud snort echoed through the tunnel.
“Neep. Neep, neep!”
Those insistent ‘neeps’ were loud enough now to cut through the snores. Damn, he wasn’t imagining them. “This can’t be happening,” Nulthir said and received a series of happy neeps in reply.
Nulthir groaned. Only one creature made that sound. Or rather, only one he knew of, and that creature had better not be somewhere in this prison. “Furball?” he whispered still unable to believe his ears. That little ball of fur and innocence couldn’t be somewhere in this prison.
“Neep!” Furball confirmed, but that was impossible. Furball couldn’t be making that excited racket because…
“You’re supposed to be asleep in my flat, not wandering around a damp prison.” Nulthir turned toward the fading echo of that imperious neep. He probably shouldn’t have said that last bit aloud, but Furball was sawing on his last nerve.
“Neep neep?” Furball asked as if he didn’t understand. Nice try.
“Don’t you pull that with me. I know you understand me.” Nulthir looked behind another stalagmite. Damn it. There was nothing but shadows back there. “How did you get down here all by yourself?”
“Neeeeeep?” Furball stretched the word out.
Nulthir scrubbed both hands over his face. “Why me?” His best creature-friend, Thing, would be crazy with worry when Thing realized Furball was missing. Maybe Thing wouldn’t notice until Nulthir could return the little guy to his flat. Please, Fate, you owe me one.
“Neeeep?” Furball asked in genuine confusion.
“Never mind, just stay where you are. I’ll find you.” It was safer that way. Furball was small and easily squashed. The little critter also blended into the shadows because of his dark coloring, which made him hard to spot in the ever-present gloom down here. “Alright, where are you, you little puff ball?”
“Neep. Neep,” Furball complained, not liking that ‘puff ball’ comment even though it was an accurate description.
But those aggrieved sounds gave Nulthir a direction, right, toward the next cave of cells, the one he hadn’t checked on his rounds yet or secured. Just great, Furball would show up near the most violent offenders. That was just his luck. Fate had no sense of proportion. “Keep talking—er—neeping, so I can find you.”
Confirmation. Good, at least Furball was still listening to him. Hopefully, he would continue to do so. After all, Furball was just a baby—um—thing? ‘OwlCat’ was probably the most apt description of the creature.
‘Gryphons’ were the closest relatives to Furball and his extended family, but gryphons were more eagle and lion, and his little friend was definitely more kitten with a bit of owl and monkey thrown in for fun. His creature friends were also a lot smaller than gryphons were purported to be.
If Furball and his family had a name for their species, they’d never mentioned it. Nor had Nulthir the time to look it up since he was technically in hiding here, hence the prison guard gig. So ‘OwlCats’ they were. Not that it mattered. They were his friends, and their littlest member would be in a heap of trouble if he didn’t find that furry kit.
Nulthir followed a string of ‘neeps’ to another shadowy corner. Maybe they were Furball’s way of explaining how in the hell he’d gotten down here in the first place, but Nulthir would need a translator to understand that. He squatted and ran his hand through the mist, but there was no furry creature there. “Where are you?”
“Neep, neep.” Now, it sounded like Furball was across the way on the other side of this damned tunnel.
“I told you not to move.”
“Neep. Neep. Neep,” Furball said, and a sharp rap followed that. The little fella must have stamped his tiny foot to make his point.
“Okay, fine, you didn’t move. My mistake.” Nulthir scanned the ground and saw only shadows, but none were moving. He snagged the leather cord hanging around his neck and lifted the dawn rune to the level of his eyes. Its metallic curves were cold against his cheek, but it warmed as the magic stored inside it glowed brighter, enough to reveal more gray walls, puddles, and stalactites, but no fuzzy creatures. Damn it. “Furball? Where the hell are you?”
Nulthir swept the glow of his fist-sized pendant over every inch of the tunnel, especially the puddle he was standing in. He wasn’t sure if Furball could swim, or if the tiny thing would even float, nor did he want to find out, not when his best creature-friend was the little fella’s grandsire.
Furball’s neeps seemed to come from everywhere now thanks to the stone walls bouncing those neeps all over this tunnel, so not helpful. Maybe he should ask Furball to jump up and down? Would that help? Furball was only about six inches tall and just as wide. “Talk to me, Furball. Tell me where you are.” Though, that might be asking too much of a creature who could make only one sound.
“Neep neep neep!” Furball said. His annoyed neeps seemed to come from below, but there was nothing under the prison. It occupied part of the lowest subterranean level of this mountain stronghold.
Still, Nulthir had to check in case Furball had fallen down a hole he couldn’t see. That would be just his luck tonight. Nulthir dropped into a crouch and scanned the floor for holes or cracks large enough for Furball to get through, but he didn’t see any. He crouch-walked halfway to the next cavern before finding a crack in the stone wall, and there was Furball hopping up and down in excitement.
“How the hell did you get down here? That crack’s too small for even you to crawl through.” Nulthir let go of the dawn rune, so he could run his hands through his hair, and his pendant dropped back into place over his heart. It still glowed a soft blue.
Furball just neeped unhelpfully. There was no way Furball could have gotten this deep into the prison without running into trouble unless the little kit had used magic, but that was impossible.
Nulthir put that scary thought out of mind. He removed his gauntlet and tucked it into his utility belt. Then he carefully scooped up the noisy little fuzzball and checked him over for any signs of injury. “Well, however you got here didn’t hurt you in any way I can see. You are okay, right? Nothing hurts?”
Furball shook his whole body. Nulthir took that as a no, and the little furry ball hopped up and down on his palm. His tiny hands and feet tickled Nulthir’s palm as he tried not to drop the squirming OwlCat, but Furball’s rotund body and excessive amount of fur made it hard to get a good grip on him. “Okay, okay, I’m excited to see you too. Quit squirming around. I don’t want to drop you.”
Furball was a handful, but an adorable one that nuzzled his hand. He looked like his name implied—a ball of fur with owlish eyes and cat ears. But most of that girth was soft fur that stood perpetually on end, as if the little critter had been struck by lightning. Furball hadn’t been. That was just how he looked. Somewhere under all that fur, Furball had a set of stubby wings. Nulthir felt them brush against his palm as his passenger shifted positions, but they were well-hidden by Furball’s rather impressive amount of fur.
Nulthir raised his hand until he could look Furball in the eyes. He needed a truthful answer to one very important question. “Does my friend, Thing, know where you are?”
For that matter, did any of Thing’s extended family know? Because that was a disaster waiting to happen. Thankfully, he’d found the little kit before anyone else had. Nulthir shuddered at the thought of what could have happened if he hadn’t. “Well, does he?” Nulthir pressed.
Furball’s fur rippled as he shrugged. “Neep, neep?”
“I’ll take that as a no.” Nulthir suppressed a groan. That wasn’t good. Thing or one of his kids would notice they were a child short and come looking for Furball. Would they know to come here? And what the hell could Nulthir do if they did?
Possessing magic or magical creatures was an offense punishable by death. If any of the other Guards saw Furball or his relatives when they eventually showed up, Nulthir would be a dead man, and Furball and his family would be hunted down and killed too. Worst of all, there was nothing Nulthir could do to stop any of that from happening because the Guards were short-handed tonight, thanks to a recent food riot.
“I won’t let anyone hurt you.” Nulthir held Furball close to his heart, and the little fella purred softly. Aww.
“Why are you here?” Nulthir regarded the tiny OwlCat in his hands, but Furball just neeped again, which wasn’t helpful. The kit hadn’t mastered mind-talking like his grandparents yet. “What am I going to do with you? I can’t leave to take you home, not until I finish my rounds and maybe not even then. Nor can you stay. It’s too dangerous for you.” Nulthir ran his free hand through his damp hair.
“Neep?” Furball asked, but the kit used those neeps to communicate a wide variety of things, none of which Nulthir could translate without help from Furball’s relatives. But they weren’t here right now. He’d have to find a way to keep Furball safe until he could return the little critter to his flat. That shouldn’t be too hard if all the inmates stayed in their cells. But that was a big if. The persistent dampness down here was hell on locks.
Furball opened his little beak and yawned as he wrapped his prehensile tail around Nulthir’s thumb. Like his progenitors, Furball was an amalgamation of raptor, monkey, cat and only Fate knew what else, and he was so adorable when he pricked his little cat ears up like that.
Nulthir stroked the critter’s soft fur. “What do you hear?” Nothing that could be communicated solely through neeps. Nulthir listened but loud snoring and the occasional grunts and snorts drowned out any other sound now that Furball had quieted.
Furball’s left ear twitched then he tried to crawl up Nulthir’s sleeve, but it was cinched tight against his forearm by a leather vambrace with metal splints. Furball just cowered there, shaking and making soft clucking sounds that wrenched his heart.
“What’s wrong?” Nulthir ran his free hand down the little fella’s back, but that didn’t soothe him. “What frightened you? There’s no one here but you and me.” No sooner had the words left his mouth then Nulthir heard footsteps coming this way. Uh-oh. “I need you to stay out of sight and be quiet. Can you do that for me?” Nulthir whispered in a vain attempt to keep this conversation from carrying at least until the snoring started up again.
Furball’s whole body bobbed in a grateful yes. Good. Nulthir scanned his person for somewhere safe to hide Furball. Hmm, not his utility belt. Its pockets had no room for anything else because they were already stuffed with the tools of his two trades and his gauntlets. Damn it! Those footsteps were getting louder and nearer.
His uniform tunic had a pocket. Nulthir eyed it speculatively. Furball was small. Was he small enough to ride inside it? Maybe. At least half of Furball’s girth was fur. Nulthir felt the little creature’s heart racing against his palm. “It’s okay. I’ve got you,” he whispered, wondering what had happened to the snoring. Why hadn’t it started up again?
A warning prickled his spine. The runes tattooed there started to tingle. Hmm, that wasn’t good. Something must be magically awry. He’d better get Furball out of sight fast. “Okay, we’re going to try something. I need you to be quiet. Signal me if you’re uncomfortable. Got that?” Nulthir cringed when his whispered words echoed, but they quickly died out, leaving an eerie silence behind. Something was up tonight, and it was his job to find out what. Fantastic.
Furball’s fur parted. A small black hand protruded from it and extended his thumb. Was that a thumbs-up? Furball rocked the upper part of his rotund body forward in a kind of nod. Alrighty then.
Nulthir slid Furball into his breast pocket, and his little passenger peered over the top of it. Furball seemed to be comfortable enough.
“I need you to scrunch down as far as you can and be quiet.” Nulthir grabbed the dawn rune pendant he always wore and dropped it under his tunic, hiding its magic-fueled light. There was only a small chance someone would see it and recognize it for what it was, but it was better not to take that chance.
Furball nodded and sank deeper into his pocket until only the tips of his pointy ears were visible. That would have to do because they were out of time. In the low lighting, the creature might go unnoticed. Prison was no place for a baby, even one with claws. Hmm, maybe he’d better cast some protection on the kit.
Before Nulthir could consider the merits of that, he traced a protective rune over his pocket and its furry occupant, who was staring up at him with wide trusting eyes. “Hard as diamond, soft as down, keep this little one safe and sound.” The rune glowed green for a moment then faded as it settled into the wool, but it was still there. Nulthir sensed its web of protective magic wrap Furball up in its warmth. If only he had time to layer more spells onto that simple one, but he didn’t.
A clanging sound startled them both as the footsteps and banging suddenly stopped. What the hell was going on back there? Were the inmates restless? Or had one of them escaped? The locks had all felt solid when Nulthir had checked, but they weren’t the best locks money could buy, and there had been incidents in the past week where they’d failed.
“Stay out of sight, okay?” Nulthir reminded Furball. “I have to check something.”
Furball gave him another thumbs-up, then pointed in alarm at the shadows between them and Green Block just as the green light illuminating that cell-lined cave winked out, dropping the tunnel leading to it into deep shadow. Nulthir turned, but Blue Block went dark a moment later. That’s when the screaming began.
“Shh.” Nulthir rested a hand on his pocket to comfort the quivering Furball and quiet his distressed chirps. Apparently, Furball did make other sounds when he wanted to.
Nulthir filed that away for later and widened his eyes in a vain attempt to improve his night sight, but he needed some light to see. He didn’t have any, unless he wanted to pull out his dawn rune again. Nulthir considered doing just that as he walked back toward the cell-filled cave known as Blue Block. But if he brought out the dawn rune again, he’d be visible, and he didn’t want to be.
Until he had a better handle on the situation, Nulthir was stuck navigating the unrelieved darkness of the tunnel, but so was everyone else down here. It covered this section of the prison’s inner ring, hiding the source of those attenuated screams. Nulthir fingered the nightstick clipped to his utility belt but didn’t draw it yet. It hung next to a collection of keys that jangled when he moved. Hmm, maybe he ought to do something about that, so he wasn’t advertising his presence. Nulthir unhooked the keys from his belt and dropped them into his trouser pocket. Hopefully, his hip pocket would muffle their clicking.
Furball shifted in his breast pocket and let out a frightened meep. That was three sounds he’d made in the last few minutes. That was progress of a sort. Too bad Nulthir didn’t speak bird.
“Shh.” Nulthir rubbed the top of Furball’s head since that was the only part of him within reach. The lovable little creature nuzzled his hand. “I love you too, you little fuzzball.” He didn’t see or sense anything amiss, but he trusted the shivering ball of fur in his pocket.
Furball could see quite well in the dark. If only the little guy could tell him what he saw. That would be a huge help since Nulthir had no idea what had caused those screams; why they were quieting; or what he was slowly creeping toward.
Nulthir grasped his nightstick and glided forward, keeping the wall to his left. That still left three directions for an attack to come at him, though, only two were likely because the tunnel was only about four feet wide. That was wide enough. A power so cold it burned, struck Nulthir in the side, staggering him. Another bolt of that same killing cold slammed into him before he could recover his scattered wits. Icy magic burrowed under his skin, and his pulse hammered out a song of fear so loudly, it almost drowned out Furball’s frantic meeps. That killing cold sped through his body, dragging a black void behind it.
Nulthir fought it as he dropped to his knees, but he couldn’t throw off the attack. It was like nothing he’d ever faced before. He couldn’t even think of a way to counter it. The power was so cold, and it was pulling something out of him. Just thinking was growing more and more difficult. But Nulthir tried to hold on. He couldn’t pass out. If he did, the magic he’d hidden since he’d sought refuge under this mountain would be revealed, and his life would be over before he’d even lived much of it. He had to fight it, but how?
Furball shrieked, hopefully in fear, not pain, as another blast of magic so cold and dark it gave off no light at all struck Nulthir—this time in the back, and he fell forward, shielding Furball with his body. He caught himself before he hit the ground. “It’s okay, Furball. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Furball didn’t reply, not in words, but Nulthir heard something. Maybe the little guy was calling psychically for help. No, that couldn’t be right. Nulthir wouldn’t be able to hear such a call because he didn’t have the mind gift. But could Furball mind-call his family? More importantly, should Furball do that? Or would the scared kit just call his family into a trap?
Nulthir opened his mouth to warn Furball, but the runes tattooed on his back heated up as they activated. They generated a field that cut some of the force pressing him down into the ground, and the sudden relief from the cold took his breath away. What had Mommy dearest inscribed back there—a transmutation spell maybe?
That would make sense, given its placement. The dark magic’s pull on him lessened as other spells tattooed on his skin lit up under his uniform, but his defenses had kicked in too late. That strange cold magic had taken something from him, and the loss was knocking him out. Footsteps came again as he collapsed on his side, too weak to hold himself up anymore.
Another cold blast hit him. The blood roared in his ears. What kind of magic was so dark and bitterly cold? That question pursued Nulthir as the darkness closed in on him, but his last thought was of Furball. The poor dear was terrified and exposed. Nulthir curled his rapidly numbing body around the frightened little creature who was chirping as if his little life depended on it, and it probably did.
Hide, Furball. Nulthir tried to send that thought the way Furball’s grandsire, Thing, had taught him when he was a child chasing shimmering leaves under the boughs of the enchanted forest. But the blackness swept him under, and Nulthir was lost in its embrace.
Get Spell of Shadows & Light to read what happens next.