Cursed: Briar Rose's Story - Kaylin Lee
Cyrus stumbled across the blackened expanse of the Badlands, his steps slow and shaky. The late-day sun was still ferociously crisp with heat. When would it relent?
He cast a final glance over his shoulder at the Asylian city walls shimmering in the distance, then wiped his brow and continued toward the Gold Hills—toward Draicia.
Bitterness sapped his strength and dried his mouth, as irritating as the lifeless dust that puffed through the air in the barren plain.
How had he gained so much, only to lose it all in a single, horrible night?
The secretive bakery owner. The fugitive mage. With the Touch, no less. She could have murdered him in his sleep weeks ago, but she’d shown mercy. She’d given him just enough time to sell her out to the rebellious mages who’d made him rich with their bribes the past few years, and then she’d destroyed the lot of them in a single night.
The entire leadership of the Crimson Blight—dead?
It shouldn’t have been possible. They’d had everything they needed to gain her True Name, but somehow, she’d turned on them.
A rock shifted beneath his next step. He swayed, then stumbled, landing hard on his bad knee. He picked up the offending rock and threw it from his path, but it landed barely an arm’s reach away.
He’d lost everything, thanks to that golden-haired woman and her pretty, precious daughters. Now she was safe—under the Crown Prince’s protection, no less—while he had no choice but to flee the investigation that had swept up every guard and official in the city.
After years of building his empire among the timid residents of the Merchant Quarter, he’d now have to start over.
Sweat beaded on his unshaven upper lip. He wiped it with his dirty shirt sleeve, then lurched to his feet and continued walking. The muddy, standing water pooling between the rocks beside his path looked deceptively thirst-quenching. One of the pools flashed in the sun, but a moment later, it was murky again. He could risk it, but no. He’d hold out. There’d be clean, moving water in those hills, surely—
He blinked, disoriented by the earsplitting noise and an overwhelming flash of light.
“Oh, how it smells!” A thin, colorless woman drifted into his view, her delicate lips curled in disgust. “The mirror never conveys that part.”
He swayed as her words sunk in. “You talking about me, you skinny—”
“Hush.” A silvery whip of magic slapped him across the mouth, silencing him mid-curse, and he realized she held a small, crystal vial. She massaged her nose and leaned back. “Piers, are you certain it was this one?”
A man stood beside her, equally colorless, his expression even sourer than hers. “Doubt me again,” he hissed. “You know I enjoy your grumbling.”
The woman huffed. “Fine, fine.” She edged closer, looking Cyrus in the eye at last. “What of your masters, creature?”
He tried to speak but her magic sliced into his tongue, stealing the words and replacing them with agonizing pain.
The thin woman flicked her fingers. The silvery tingles lifted from his mouth but hovered in front of his face. “What of your masters? Tell us!”
“I have no masters,” he managed. He stepped back, but her magic followed, gleaming threateningly as though tempted to re-attach of its own accord. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“The Crimson Blight,” the colorless man drawled. “And the mage with the Touch. What of them?”
Cyrus relaxed slightly. This, he could tell them. “Zel killed them,” he said bluntly. “Killed the leaders, anyway. And the Crown is coming for the rest of them. Crimson Blight is done for.” Report given, he waited expectantly, but the sharp, silvery magic didn’t move away from his mouth.
The other man pursed his lips. “Should have known,” he said to the woman. “The Crimson Blight was weak. To think the city would have allowed a common kitchen girl to hold a mage’s True Name in government, and those red-masked fools couldn’t even stop it.”
“Yes,” the woman purred, finally dropping her hand from her nose as though she’d forgotten the offending smell. “They were weak. But Zel is not.”
The man frowned. “You think she—”
“They had her True Name. I’m certain of it. The mirror showed me. If she killed them, she did it. She is one of us.”
“One of you?” Cyrus couldn’t help interrupting, though the woman had yet to move the magic away from his mouth. “What are you, exactly?”
“Followers of the Master.” The woman seemed cheered now, her lips twisting into a smirk. She waved her hand. A helmet and cloak