Home > When Night Breaks (Kingdom of Cards #2)

When Night Breaks (Kingdom of Cards #2)
Author: Janella Angeles

 


PROLOGUE

 


The magician stared at his reflection.

His face was not as he remembered, the edges more prominent. The shadows, a shade darker across bronzed skin that had long lost its luster. His eyes, especially, looked like a stranger’s. So often, he’d been told he possessed noble eyes. To which he’d laugh. There was nothing noble about him now.

And they were empty. Exhausted, like all his other reflections captured in the mirrors lining the room. Some stood on their own, others propped against easels. The interesting thing about being surrounded by mirrors was that your reflection looked a little different in each of the frames. A little wider, a touch darker; some startlingly clear, others somewhat musty. No matter their shape, they were doors all the same.

Still, no one came through.

No matter how long he stared, no one ever would.

Yet he kept coming back, unable to do what was needed.

The magician rose to his feet, flexing out his fingers on a deep breath.

He flung his fist into the first mirror before him.

No pain, no blood. Just fractures across the surface, broken so finely they appeared more like glitter than glass. He’d thrown harder punches before, taken them himself. But his fist trembled from this one. From an opponent who was nothing more than a reflection.

He shook out his wrist, the energy humming through his veins. Someone would’ve heard that, but he no longer cared.

Let them come. However weak he was, he was still strong enough for this.

The magician curled his fingers into another fist, destroying what he could of the mirrors around him.

 

 

ACT I


Once upon a time,

a magician fell into a world below …

 

 

1

 


The Dire Woods flashed by Daron’s window like a nightmare he knew well. Blurs of black trees and branches jagged as thorns, bumps riddled along their path as though they were driving over scattered bones.

Only the dead could feel alive in woods like these.

Daron recalled his first trip to Glorian, how he’d tried not to pay much attention to any of it. Aunt Cata had always warned him and Eva of the woods no one dared enter, and that first carriage ride alone had only been a taste. Even in the safe confines of a coach with a map in hand, the shadow weight outside seeped through the walls. There was a reason no one was ever foolish enough to enter the Dire Woods without a sense of where they were going. Getting lost led to something slow, something suffering.

That fear was long gone after what had to be his hundredth journey through the woods.

Even with the occasional chill, he’d become numbed to the sight of trees flashing by like shadows reaching out to him. Their touch had dulled, the woods no more than a horror story. An incomplete and immensely infuriating one.

Hellfire House was nowhere to be found, almost as if it didn’t want to be.

As if it never existed in the first place.

No matter how many times Daron shook the thought away, a slight thrum of panic remained.

No.

He couldn’t entertain the idea.

It was all they had, a hope dangling on a hook already crumbling to pieces.

Daron stared hard at the words glaring at him across the seat, a bolded headline bracketed between the reader’s polished sharp nails holding the paper out before her.

SPECTACULAR SCANDAL: A DOOMED DUO, DEMARCO DISGRACED

No one can say for certain what truly happened in Glorian during the last night of Spectaculore. Conflicting stories have cropped up from all over Soltair, ranging from one outrageous tale to the next. The facts are few, and only questions remain:

How does a star disappear into thin air?

And what does a showman’s fall from grace—

 

“Do you really have to read that?” Daron turned back toward the window, his throat tight. “Right now?”

The issue lowered, and Lottie’s serpentine eyes peeked over the top. “What? I’m reading quietly.”

The headline taunted him. “You couldn’t have picked a book?”

“This isn’t some short pleasant jaunt through the park,” she snapped, shaking out her paper to smooth out the crinkles. “As much as it pains me to read the New Crown Post, it’s better to know what stories the world is believing.”

Judging by the stack of issues crammed inside Lottie’s emerald briefcase, there was far more coverage on him than during his performing days on stage.

“How do they even know?” Daron dragged a hand down his face. “I thought you and Erasmus arranged a deal. You’ve been the only eyes on the ground.”

Lottie snorted. “I swear, for someone who was once in the thick of show business, you really overestimate the morality of others. I might be the only pen here now, but people talk. Letters find their way to the right and wrong hands. Your case is probably close to bursting, so it won’t be long before a flood swarms in to cover this story.”

Zarose. Daron hadn’t opened his courier case in a while. Not since the constant telltale clicks of new letters started up again, until he finally shoved the damn thing under his bed. Just like when he’d first stopped performing, the world wanted answers. So the stream of letters kept coming.

He had no time to wade through them. His scouting trips through the Dire Woods kept him busy enough.

Every day, he searched through the dark for a glimmer of something. For the flash of a rooftop or hint of a building between the trees. He stared as though he could will them into being, though hours brought him nothing.

Finding her, however, was never hard. All he had to do was close his eyes.

And there she stood in that dark, just as he last remembered.

You’ll be here …

The whisper pulled at him. Her voice from memory, or perhaps from the woods.

… at the end of this, right?

Daron squeezed the bridge of his nose, his stomach churning. He had to get out. Stretch his legs a bit. Breathe. Hours in the carriage sometimes passed in a blink, or dragged on like a slow death. But that was how he spent his days. Every day.

Most times he’d go alone on horseback, but today was a coach day when Lottie offered her company. Thankfully, she secured a ride for them easily. Like much of Glorian, even the coachmen scowled at Daron whenever he approached. But in the end, they took their payment with gruff silence. Coin was coin no matter who gave it.

Not that it mattered much. Daron was used to cold shoulders. Far better to be alone than in the company of those who despised him. Or just barely tolerated him.

“I’ll drop you back off.” He cleared his throat, knocking a fist against the roof. “I don’t know why you even came with me this time.”

They rarely talked. Merely occupying the same room would lead to an argument one way or another, so he was surprised the carriage hadn’t caught fire yet.

“A long drive is good for the mind every now and then.” Lottie gave a half-hearted shrug, watching him knock at the ceiling. “And I was curious.”

His fist paused.

Curious. Coming from her, it was an omen.

“About what, exactly?” Irritation reeled through him as the driver kept on. No sign of slowing, or turning around.

Firmly situated, Lottie tossed her folded newspaper aside and crossed her arms. “You’re not going to find her out here, you know.”

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