Roar (Stormheart Series #1) by Cora Carmack
In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.
Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.
To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.
Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.
She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.
Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.
Excerpt Roar (Stormheart Series #1) by Cora Carmack
Rora set off for the servants’ wing in the quickest walk she could manage without drawing attention. Shortcuts allowed her to avoid pal- ace guards, and in record time Rora was standing before the entrance to the storm shelter. She scurried down the stairs into the dark.
The servants’ shelter was merely a long empty room, whereas the royal shelter had elegant fixtures and furniture and even a few beds. Rora did not dare light a sconce as she walked through the shelter. Eventually, out of the darkness formed the shape of a familiar set of stairs that led to the outside. She opened the cellar door enough to slip out and then softly set it back into place. On the darkened street that ran along the palace wall, things became trickier. Cassius might have beat her here. She could head in the direction of the main road and hope she caught up to him. Or . . . she could assume that she changed quickly and took enough shortcuts to arrive ahead of him. She was still considering her options when the door behind her creaked open. She pulled the hood forward to hide her face as much as possible and began walking slowly toward the main road. She hunched and shuffled as if she were an old woman, then peered back briefly over her shoulder.
The newcomer wore a wide-brimmed hat angled to cover his face and a black traveling cloak. His height and build matched Cassius, and he walked with the same calm confidence. She continued her slow gait, and eventually he passed her. Rora waited until he was a decent length ahead of her, and then she dropped the act and followed as quietly and inconspicuously as possible.
As they neared the city’s center, the streets became less deserted. Two people huddled in a small alley. A shadowed form darkened a doorway. A group of men stood outside a seedy tavern, their voices loud and slurred, discussing the earlier skyfire storm as if they’d fought it themselves. Even in her disguise, a few people eyed her as she passed.
She began to worry that the possibility of getting caught by Cassius wasn’t her only concern. She had left the palace often; she did it regularly for her early-morning rides and for the occasional royal tour through the city. But that was along the main road that led directly from the palace gate to the city gate. It was well paved and well lit, and could be seen by guards patrolling atop both the palace and city walls. Now she was truly on her own.
When she looked away from the group of drunk men, Cassius was gone. Panicked, she launched into a jog, scanning alleyways and side streets for his silhouette. She saw what might have been a black cloak disappearing around the bend of a dark, twisting street. She hesitated. If she were wrong, the trail would go cold.
Trusting her gut, Rora darted down the street, unnerved by the darkness that lurked around her. The buildings grew more dilapidated, and up ahead a lone figure strolled down the street. Occasionally he stopped, peered into a building or down another street, and then continued on. The neighborhood grew rougher as they plunged deeper into the city—a city that was decidedly less pristine and prosperous than the one she always saw on the royal tours.
The streets smelled of some unidentifiable muck, and houses leaned together as if holding each other up. Surely people in Pavan didn’t live like this. Rora edged closer to Cassius so that she didn’t fall behind again. When he stopped again under the flickering glow of a swinging lantern, he glanced backward and she was luckily covered by the shadow of a building.
The lantern squeaked in the wind on the silent street. Too silent. It was late, but there should have been some noise . . . people moving in their houses, a crying babe, a barking dog. Something. Light shone on the familiar hard angle of Cassius’s jaw, then he dipped his head and disappeared into a building. Rora gathered her cloak up in her fists, and ran. Skidding to a stop beneath the lantern, she faced a set of stairs and a boarded-up door of a deserted building. Frowning, she approached and pushed against the wood. It didn’t budge. Feeling around the frame for any hidden latches, Rora came up empty. But just out- side the frame on the side of the building was something carved into the wood.
She ran her fingers over the grooves and followed the way they fanned out from a circle in the center. It reminded her of the way water in a tub swirled after the plug had been pulled. A storm. She wasn’t positive what kind—a hurricane, perhaps? Pavan was landlocked, so she had never seen one in real life, but she had seen illustrations of the monstrous swirling beasts.
Her fingers traced again over the carving, following it all the way to the edge. She expected to run into the next building, as it was clear when she looked up that the two were attached, but instead her fingers found open air. She leaned over the edge of the stair railing, and found a small gap that had been boarded up to make the buildings appear connected at a glance, but left enough space at the bottom for a person to duck beneath.
That must have been where he’d gone. The gap was small, and so dark she would not have seen it if she had not been looking. It must have been difficult for Cassius to fit. She felt ill with nerves as she approached the passageway. But she had to know what was on the other side. As her mother said . . . better the beast you know.
She squeezed through the opening. She had to shuffle sideways for about ten steps, then the tunnel widened. Twenty paces ahead, there was a faint blue glow in the darkness. Her stomach roiled like a tossing sea, but she continued forward. The eerie silence of the street at her back gave way to a dull roar that developed into voices as she neared the exit.
“Wind charms!” one cried. “Tie it on your laundry line and never lose another garment.”
A gruff male voice said, “Firestorms! Rare and potent!”
She poked her head outside the tunnel, but immediately pulled it back. There were people everywhere, more than a hundred, walking through narrow lanes of merchant stalls. Slower this time, she poked her head out, and when she didn’t see Cassius, she slipped out of the passageway.
It was a market, like the open-air one in the shopping district. But this one was far from open. The backs of buildings formed the border of the market, leaving a long rectangular gap hidden from the streets. A black cloth had been stretched overhead, providing further seclusion. Lanterns were strung up around the edges and down the aisles. But they didn’t hold fire inside. They glowed an eerie blue and contained . . . skyfire—dozens of thin branches of light that split and stretched toward the glass like the roots of a tree. The lightning was frozen inside the lantern.
It was not unlike the chandelier that she loved so much in the great hall. But she had never seen storm magic like this outside the palace.
“Need a lightning lantern?” An older woman stood at Rora’s elbow, her skin weathered and dark, her voice a gravely whisper. “Guaranteed to stay lit for one year. Buy two and I’ll cut ye a deal.”
Rora shook her head. “No, I—no, thank you.”
“Ah, ye sound like a pretty young thing. A skyfire necklace then? I’ve got one that’s exactly like what the princess wore to meet her new prince. A lil’ smaller, of course.”
The woman picked up a chain, and it had miniature crystals that fanned out just like the one Rora had worn. The center crystal had been painted ruby red to mimic a firestorm heart.
“No, thank you.”
“Sumthin’ a bit more extravagant, then? I’ve a talisman that would protect ye from all types of storms for one week. Ye could go any- where, see anything, and never have to fear that ye might not make it home. Or perhaps ye have an enemy? Maybe a nasty husband who beats ye? Is that why ye got so much of ye face covered? I’ve just the thing! A powder made from the heart of a firestorm. Sprinkle it in his food, and he’ll burn from the inside out.”
“No need to burn people from the inside out, Etel. This one is with me.”
A large, masculine form pressed into Rora’s side, and a heavy arm draped over her shoulders. The old woman straightened. She scowled and spit on the ground, and when she spoke, her tone was higher, less raspy, “Ye could have told me that, Locke, before I wasted me time.”
Rora froze. Cassius. He’d found her. She had been so distracted by the woman and her wares that she hadn’t thought to keep watch. He pulled her forward, and her feet dragged like lead. She couldn’t take a deep enough breath, and her eyes began to cloud with tears.
What have I done? How will I explain this? What will he do to me?
“Come on, girl. I’m doing you a favor getting you away from that fraud. You could at least play along.”
Rora lurched to a stop, and jerked her head upward. That wasn’t Cassius. Her hood began to slip backward. She tried to catch it, but her movements lagged behind her mind, and her injured arm had grown stiff and numb. Cool air hit her uncovered cheeks, her nose, then her forehead. Even with the scarf hiding her hair, she might be recognized. And she had a feeling this was a very bad place for a princess to be.
The hood’s descent halted; it wasn’t her fingers that had caught the fabric but his. He was so tall that Rora had to crane her head back to see him. His hair was a dark, wavy brown and hung long enough to brush against his shoulders.
“Keep that hood up. This is no place for little girls.”
“I’m not a little girl!” She clamped her mouth shut, immediately wishing she could take the declaration back. Not only because it sounded exactly like what a little girl would say but also because she had not tempered her volume. At all. And though it wasn’t Cassius who caught her, he was here somewhere. She bit her lip in worry, and the stranger’s eyes tracked down to her mouth briefly before darting around her face.
He still held on to her hood, keeping it back enough that he could see her eyes. “So you’re not a little girl. Still doesn’t mean this is any place for you.”
She could not argue with that. “She called you Locke.”
His eyes narrowed. “Yes. And?”
“As in . . . Prince Locke?”
He laughed so hard that he released her hood. She rushed to grab it and pull it down to cover her face. She had no doubt people were staring now. He sucked in a breath, and then as if he couldn’t help himself, burst into laughter all over again.
Still chuckling, he said, “I’m about as much a prince, as you are a princess.”
Rora resisted the juvenile impulse to inform him just how much of a princess she was.
“But . . . the name,” she said. “Are you related?” Perhaps he was the person Cassius had come to meet. In which case, she needed to leave now.
“I’d rather die than be related to that poor excuse for royalty. The name is just a name, like any other. Like yours?” he prompted.
Rora’s mind went blank when she tried to invent a name to give him. So instead she shook her head.
“Good. Smart girl. This is a place for secrets. Not truths.” For the first time, Rora looked away from him and her eyes caught on row after row of glass jars and tubes and bottles, each of them glowing like the lanterns she saw when she entered the market. But these weren’t all skyfire. A fat, round jar contained a funnel of black and gray smoke. She squinted, certain that it was moving. That it . . . twisted.
The man, Locke, picked it up, long fingers plucking the jar from the sea of others. Inside was a tiny twister like the one that had killed her brother. She stared at it, stunned into awe. There was something truly beautiful about the way a storm moved. The other jars swirled with different kinds of magic—blizzards and thunderstorms and skyfire and firestorms—each more wondrous than the last. All her life she’d been desperate for magic to call her own, and now it stretched out before her as far as she could see.
The stranger spoke again. “Steer clear of the vendors around the edges. Those are the frauds. Get whatever magic you’re here for, and get out. Don’t talk to anyone unless you must, and for sky’s sake, the next time you come here try to look less . . .”
He moved closer, peering down through the shadows cast by her hood to meet her eyes. “Less like the kind of pretty girl this place would chew up and spit out long before dawn.”