The Spell Breaker

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The Spell Breaker

Chapter One

LISSA DEHAVEN RAN. Into the night, directionless, fear pumping her legs, her breath paralyzed so the Seekers would not hear gasp. Thorns reached out like tentacles to claw at her thin nightgown and rip into her flesh, but she couldn’t stop. She had to keep running before they tried again to invade her mind, to control her and to implant scenes of horror and destruction until she screamed in agony.

She swiped at her eyes to clear her vision, but the night was impenetrable. A glance upward through bare branches showed the edges of constellations. Not Earth’s. She should have known that, but she’d been here, wherever here was, for so little time she’d forgotten.

The bray of their hounds snapped her back to reality. They’d find her, corner her, then the Seekers would drag her away—

Lissa ran.

They will not have me. Will not. Will not. Her heart echoed the rhythm. The undergrowth grew thicker. The boundary hadn’t been more than a mile from the place where they’d held her, if she could reach it.

A twig snapped, the sound outside of the noise she made in her flight. She dropped to the ground to make a smaller target, though her white nightgown shone like a beacon. Dare she pull it off and continue nude?

Precious seconds streaked past as she held her breath and waited. Had they circled around her? What did they want? Where in hell was she?

“Don’t move,” a voice whispered, as light, as warning as the wind. “There is a Seeker near.”

Her heart hammered, and blood rushed to fill her ears. Who spoke? Not friend. She’d found none. She started to rise, but a hand clamped on her shoulder.

“Stay,” he said, the low growl identifying his gender. “Don’t move.”

Lissa felt rather than heard him retreat—a caged energy, deadly, capable of tracking her to the end of time. She bit her fist to keep from crying out. Hopelessness crashed over her.

A second later, she heard a body fall, then the man returned, his grip hot on her icy skin.

“This way.” He pulled her through the brush, showing no mercy as she stumbled. She let herself be dragged, what choice had she? He’d killed the enemy. Whether he planned to hurt her as the Seekers had, she didn’t know, but he’d rescued her, which is more than anyone had done since her arrival in this unknown world.

They moved more easily. He must have found a path. How did he see in pitch black? On they traveled, a half mile, the bray of the Seekers’s hounds fading, the shouts dying.

Abruptly, he stopped, and she fell into him, the scent of sweat and smoke, dirt and spice hard against her nostrils as she slammed against the fur vest on his back.

“Shhh,” he warned. Then he whistled, a low note, broken in half, a sound she expected from nature. He forced the signal around tongue and over teeth, which flashed too white for the primitive native she thought him to be. He turned his head to repeat the note, and his breath brushed her cheek.

An answer came from their left. The stranger grabbed her wrist again and they started toward his accomplice, the journey short and urgent.

They entered a clearing, and the brush fell away. Horses stamped their feet. Lissa smelled their familiarity, the sweet scent of grass and the tang of manure, an indication their wait had not been short.

A man stepped forward. She could not see his features. He moved stiffly, and age laced his words. “Is that her?” he asked with a jerk of his head.

“The runaway,” her rescuer confirmed. He turned to her. “We ride now.”

A man of few words. She nodded, frozen and wet and exhausted, but capable of keeping her balance, at least for a few minutes. “I know how.”

He gripped her waist and tossed her onto the nearest beast. Lissa tightened her knees and groped for a stirrup, but his boot was in it, and he swung up behind her. She gasped, crushed beneath his bulk as he leaned forward to grab the reins.

“Hold on, little one,” he warned.

Little? At five-eight, she didn’t consider herself little, but he wasn’t exactly a lightweight. He towered a head over her. With the bulk of furs, it was hard to gauge his width.

“I’m not little,” she protested, some of the spunk the Seekers had taken returning. Her cheeks burned.

He chuckled, the first true sign of humanity she’d noticed. “We’ll see.”

With a chirrup to his horse, they set off, the other men, five in number, following.

• • •

“Fetch some wood. Hurry. Hurry.” Rue pushed the boy back toward the ruin’s courtyard and the dried, rotten timbers, their only hope of salvation. When he did not respond, she tapped him on the cheek, but she’d recognized the dead white of skinfrost and knew he couldn’t feel her touch, any more than her fingertips sensed his face. She hooked her hands behind his thin shoulders and shook him. “Wood for the fire, Wyatt. For the wizard. For Gregory.”

She turned him and pointed at the still form of the old man. They’d dragged him into the ruined shell of the summer kitchen, but the crumbled walls didn’t keep out the sweeping, frozen wind. Without a fire, they’d die.

She turned him and pointed at the still form of the old man. They’d dragged him into the ruined shell of the summer kitchen, but the crumbled walls didn’t keep out the sweeping, frozen wind. Without a fire, they’d die.

There was too much to do, too little time, and snow hung heavy in the low, angry clouds. Everything depended on her.

She shook the boy again and refrained from slapping him, as anyone would have done in the new castle’s kitchen. Slaves—the losst—were expendable. She’d learned that early.

The sight of the broken wizard stirred Wyatt. He cried out and shambled over the splintered threshold.

“Firewood, boy,” she called. It would be like him to wander down the hill and fall into the lake.

Rue turned to the wizard. He still lived. His breath stirred the frozen air in weak plumes. She felt his life force flicker like a candle before an open window.

“You’ll not die on me, old man.” She dropped to her knees and ran her hands over him, knowing his injuries were not of his body. He’d hurt himself during the spell, poured too much of his dying energy into sustaining it for hours.

In the faded afternoon sun, he’d begun the summoning spell. She’d embraced it instinctively, intimately, though she’d never been trained in it, had never seen the books in which it was written. The knowledge welled in her the moment he’d started the incantation, and as he spoke, the words, stronger than his, echoed in her head. Far stronger. Dry, blue lightning crackled, and the jorvald, the earth power, had grown from wispy threads to thick ropes of white and yellow that had snaked around their bodies.

My power. Mine.

She’d been born with the magic, knew its dark recesses and brilliant pinnacles and had let it grow inside as she’d matured.

With her soul entwined by magic, she had not wondered at it for it was as bound to her as breathing, eating, sleeping.

No one knew her secret. Not the other slaves, the lovers she’d taken, or the royalty above stairs. Especially not them.

As the day died, the spell had crumbled. Something failed, and the wizard’s singing grew more desperate. Rue pulled energy from the rocks and sparse vegetation, the snow in the upper reaches and the lake far below to strengthen the power. Clouds had gathered, and she’d used their energy, rolling them in agitation. Darkness curtained the hill, and the magic slowly turned in their favor. And still, the wizard sang.

Wyatt groaned, a thin cry of exhaustion. Rue mirrored the sound, unwilling to let Gregory, lost in the final verses of an ancient song, notice a different reaction in her. She never, ever took chances with her power.

No one must know. Not until the time arrived.

Blue and sparkling, lightning jumped. Gregory dropped to his knees, the song weakened in the onslaught of the elements. Rue sent a new surge of power through her body, transferring it from the sacred ground and ancient ruins, diverting it from Wyatt, who would die if he sacrificed more.

She melded the magic as a craftsman and woven the strands, painting ivory upon white, gold upon yellow, instinctively creating the very thing the old man needed at the precise moment necessary in his descant.

The song climaxed with the last note she sang. Thunder shook the ruins, and the jorvald protested. A boulder nearby cracked and tumbled toward Wyatt. A corner of her mind caught and held it, then rolled it away. The rest of her consciousness played out the melody and swept the whirling leaves from her face so she could breathe.

Silence screamed over the ruins so abruptly the clouds paused.

Then the wizard collapsed.

She didn’t know if she would be able to save him.

“He gonna die?” Wyatt now asked from what had once been the doorway. Lightning crackled around him, outlining his frailty.

An unexpected tenderness welled in Rue. He couldn’t be more than nine or ten, half her age, though no one kept records of slave births and deaths. Why had the wizard plucked him from the kitchens to take part in the ritual? Why had he picked her?

“Have you seen death before?” she asked, taking the armload of wood from him and carrying it to the intact hearth.

Wyatt shook his head, the shadow wells of his eyes unreadable. She could imagine his fear.

Rue squeezed his hand, his fingers, like hers, stiff and cold. “You won’t see it tonight. Help me move him again.”

One corner of the kitchen retained a partial roof. They dragged the wizard into its depths. Gregory was old but deceptively sturdier than he looked. After they had pushed him before the hearth, Rue set the boy to building a wall behind him from the tumbled bricks that lay everywhere. The task would keep his mind from their ordeal and provide a windbreak.

Rue bent and gathered handfuls of the season’s leaves, blissfully dry, and crammed them into the hollow hearth. With her back to Wyatt, she took an emberstone from her pocket and struck it at the same time as she whispered the tiniest fire spell. She cupped her hands around the glow until the flames grew large enough to lick the wood.

“Come, leave your task,” she said and pulled his frozen body against her side. They huddled together, the wizard and the fire before them, the cruel night wind at their backs. Wyatt shivered. She struggled not to.

“Where we be?” he asked, his teeth chattering like the death sticks old women struck at funerals.

“Where are we,” she corrected. She’d fought all her life to learn proper words and phrases, knowing greater things than kitchens lay in her future. “In the ruins of Brunne, the castle that came before Mulcastle. It’s very old.” And powerful. The jorvald, the power from which all magic sprang, reached deep into this hill. She imagined other great places on Aribisala and knew she’d see them before First Mother welcomed her into death.

“Why’d he bring us here?” Wyatt sniffled.

Rue glanced at the wizard. He still breathed. Firelight forked across his face, slack in sleep. “He needed our bodies for the spell,” she explained, wondering again why they had been chosen. She sought the right words for the boy to understand. “Wells need water to fill them. He needed us to fill the well of his magic. He couldn’t do it alone.”

Wyatt sighed. His eyelids drooped. “Must be ‘portant.”

“Important. Yes. Very.” Gregory was old. He was weak. Without her help, he would have failed, and he could not fail. She did not know whom he summoned with his crystals and wizard’s fire, but that person was vital to her fate. His. Their land’s—Aribisala.

She picked up his arm and felt his pulse. It was neither weaker nor stronger. She pushed another log into the flames, the red embers glowing with the warmth necessary to keep him alive. He had to live. His spell, cast with the strength of the jorvald, with his weakness and her inexperience, wasn’t vigorous enough to stay intact. The person he’d conjured needed time to grow and weave their own patterns.

She laid the sleeping Wyatt next to the wizard and sat between them and the wind. Her hand strayed to the slight bump of her pregnancy. She prayed to First Father, guardian of the living, that she had not injured her child.

Her world had changed.

Rue did not know how.

Yet.

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