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The Girl Who Broke the Dark ebook

The Girl Who Broke the Dark ebook

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Book 1 in the Royal Mages series

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About this premium ebook

Winner of a Literary Titan Book Award

Sometimes, breaking the curse is only the beginning…

Princess Eliana of Ymittos has long anticipated the day she gets to make the rules — and use her magic without fear of penalty. But until she ascends the throne, Eliana’s days are devoted to practicing diplomacy on inconsiderate guests and weighing the merits of her latest string of suitors.

Then, on her 18th birthday, Eliana’s parents reveal her true destiny: she alone must wake a sleeping prince from his hundred-year curse, deep in the monster-infested underworld of Malkh. Terrified, Eliana refuses. But the terms of the curse are clear: only the heir of Ymittos can break its spell. If she fails, the entire continent will be easy prey for the evil sorcerer Cetus.

Banished and stripped of his power a millennium ago, Cetus has lain dormant, rebuilding his strength and amassing his armies. Now, his carefully laid trap is about to spring destruction on the first realms in his path. Only Eliana stands in his way.

A Sleeping Beauty retelling with a deadly twist, The Girl Who Broke the Dark is the first volume of the Royal Mages series.

Here’s what readers are saying:

"This suspense thriller tied up in a fantasy novel is a must read." Amazon reviewer

"I enjoyed every minute of it!" BookBub Reviewer

"I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy fairytale retellings, fantasy, strong female main characters and wonderful story telling."  GoodReads reviewer

 "A great read, really well written with great characters a thrilling page turner - I can't wait for the next installment." Goodreads Reviewer

"Loved it! Can't wait for the next one!"  Goodreads Reviewer

"The story has many twists and turns and will keep you up at night to read just one more chapter." Goodreads Reviewer

"Well written as always with genuinely interesting characters! Was very hard to put down and spent all day at work thinking about getting back to it. Cannot wait for the rest of this series!" Goodreads Reviewer

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What people say:

"A magnificent role reversal of the legendary Sleeping Beauty. I could easily lose myself in this book with characters you love to hate and characters you long to see succeed." Ronel Steyn for Readers' Favorite

Enjoy a sample of The Girl Who Broke the Dark

Chapter 1

Princess Eliana of Ymittos wondered if using her magic to strangle the Heir of Cinar would cause a war. She sighed and forced her lips into a smile. Just one more sacrifice royalty demanded. If only the fate of the realm didn’t depend on her friendship with a visiting princess. The girl riding a chestnut mare beside Eliana surveyed the city streets with the air of a conquering empress who condescended to allow the rabble to witness her magnificence. 

Eliana’s cheeks ached from the effort of hiding her true feelings. To relieve the pain, she closed her eyes and tipped her face into the cool breeze blowing in from the sea. Merciful winds, spare me. Straightening in her saddle, she made another attempt to engage. “In a few minutes, we’ll pass the library. You can see the towers already. Right now, Ymittos is hosting an astronomy symposium, with participating scholars from all over the continent of Ardebil. I believe some are from Cinar.”

Her companion made no reply.

Princess Derya, heir to the throne of Cinar, and her entourage had arrived two weeks before. For those two long weeks, Eliana struggled to entertain the other princess, choking back the sarcastic ripostes she wanted to hurl at Derya and her supercilious sneering. Even the previous evening’s lavish celebration of the winter solstice had, in Derya’s words, failed to impress. 

Before Derya’s arrival, Eliana’s parents lectured her endlessly on the importance of making the Heir of Cinar her friend. They didn’t know if the Emperor of Cinar planned to absorb Ymittos into his empire or simply wanted a stronger alliance. Eliana needed to win Derya's confidence and find out the emperor's intentions. The queen had arranged dinners and dances, theatrical spectacles and concerts. Eliana had done her best to make sure that Derya enjoyed them all. But Derya made her disdain for Eliana’s country and everyone in it quite obvious.

This morning, the drizzling rain and sleet that had fallen continuously since Derya’s arrival had ceased and the weak midwinter sun peeked through the clouds. Eliana proposed a ride through the city, thinking that once Derya saw the spectacular architecture of Ptolemaida, she’d find something she wouldn’t deride. 

Their horses paced slowly through the crowded streets. Two guards preceded them. One was a burly man clad in Ymittos’s colors of navy and white. Somehow his livery looked drab compared to the hues of Derya’s guard—brilliant turquoise against somber black. 

Street vendors hawked their wares, shouting the praises of their wine, sausages, and clams. The smell of baking flatbread mixed with the odor of manure from the stables connected to a roadside inn. A breeze brought a whiff of rotting fish from the port. Eliana glanced at Derya, who was crinkling her nose. An icy wind blew the hood of Eliana’s cloak from her head, teasing strands of her black hair into her eyes. 

A scant half an hour into the ride and Eliana was berating herself for thinking the sights and sounds of the city would make Derya’s presence less odious. At least they were out in the fresh air. But a canter through the countryside, when she’d be permitted to ride astride, would be better than this slow parade perched on an uncomfortable sidesaddle. 

“Have you seen enough?” Eliana asked. “Ready to turn back?”

“Why? Are you cold?” One corner of Derya’s mouth curled.

“No, of course not.” Eliana flexed the toes she could barely feel inside her leather boots. “Are you?”

Derya snorted. “We’d call this autumn, not winter.”

Eliana pressed her lips together. She’d already heard endless, tiresome tales of Derya’s exploits with a bow and arrow hunting in the vast forests of the northern provinces of her father’s territory, forests that were blanketed in snow many months of the year. 

Snow rarely appeared in any part of Ymittos. Instead, a dreary drizzle fell through most of the winter. And while the spitting rain had ceased for the moment, gray clouds churned overhead, reflecting Eliana’s own dark thoughts. How long would she be saddled with a companion whose every word made her feel inadequate and incompetent? Perhaps challenging Derya to compete with bows or swords might wipe the smirk off the other girl’s face. Years of training with her cousin Evander had given Eliana skills few girls had. Besting Derya in a duel was a tempting thought. Better not try it. It was her duty to sacrifice her feelings for the sake of the alliance with Cinar. Eliana didn’t want to risk a diplomatic incident, or worse, embarrass herself if Derya won.

A white marble building came into view on their right. Wide steps led to a portico whose roof jutted three stories above its mosaic flooring, supported by a row of towering statues of the former kings of Ymittos. “That’s the King’s Theater. A new play will open next week. If you’re still here, we could go see it.”

Holding her breath, Eliana waited for Derya’s reply. The princess hadn’t said how long she’d stay. Perhaps she’d be leaving soon. For the rest of my life, I’ll celebrate that day as a holiday.

“That would be delightful.”

The other girl’s tone sounded like she’d rather have her fingernails torn out than attend the play. Eliana stifled her impulse to wield her air magic to fill Derya’s mouth with dust. Instead, Eliana fixed her faltering smile in place and pulled in a deep breath of the crisp air. “Wonderful. I’ll arrange it.” She pointed. “The statue on the right of the entrance depicts Kastellanos the Conqueror, for whom our royal house is named. My father is the thirty-fifth in his line.”

“Mine is the ninety-first in his. What’s that?” Derya pointed with her chin at the pillared building across the street.

Too bad your line didn’t end at ninety. Stretching her lips into a bland expression, Eliana replied, “The Palace of Philosophers, where our learned men debate issues and current events. Would you like to observe?”

“Only if they include learned women in their debates.” With a smug smile, Derya cast a sidelong glance at Eliana. “Oh, forgive me, I forgot. You have no educated women here.”

Eliana put a hand to her mouth and coughed, hoping to cover her shock. While it was true few women in Ymittos received much education beyond simple reading and writing, this was not true of all. She’d enjoyed the benefit of tutors in most subjects the boys studied. How dare Derya include her in the ranks of the unlettered? “I think you may be misinformed on that point.”

“I doubt it.”

Eliana repressed a biting retort. Visiting princesses were every bit as tiresome as solving mathematical proofs, and much less interesting. She shot a hard look at the girl. A dimple dented Derya’s smooth, gently tanned skin and her full lips were pulled into a grin. A stray beam of sunlight caressed her dark hair, illuminating its golden highlights.

How Eliana coveted those highlights, along with the jeweled lacing Derya used to belt her fine linen chemises. Her patterned leather boots inlaid with gemstones. And her tall, willowy build. But most of all, Eliana envied Derya’s confidence, and her boldness to say what she thought even if it crossed the line into rudeness.

“I intend—” Eliana choked back her impulsive words. She couldn’t let anyone know her plans for improving women’s education once she became ruler. That might make her father question the wisdom of allowing her to inherit and prompt him to pass her over for one of her male cousins. 

A tremor shook the ground, causing Eliana’s horse to shy. Shouts froze passersby in place. Eliana stared in the direction of the noise, where a dusty plume rose into the frosty air. The princesses’ guards drew closer, with two assuming positions beside the girls. 

Pulling tighter on the reins, Eliana murmured to her mare. The bay tugged on the bit as if preparing to bolt. What was happening? The momentary shaking had not been the familiar trembling of an earthquake. 

“Does this occur often?” Princess Derya asked. “We don’t have such disruptions in Cinar.”

Only when irritating visitors come to call. Eliana looked past Derya down a side street. “I think there’s a problem with the canal repairs.” She remembered vividly the last time there was an accident in the canal works. Scores of laborers had died. She’d never forget the desolation of the widows and fatherless children.

“What’s it to us?”

The neutral expression Eliana had wrestled onto her face came close to cracking like an egg that had been squeezed too hard. While the canal works had mages to deal with accidents, she felt an obligation to aid her people, something that would no doubt elicit more scorn from Derya. Let her sneer. Eliana turned her horse. “I’m going to see what happened and offer to help.”

“What can you possibly do?”

“I won’t know until I get there.” Without waiting for an answer, Eliana nudged her mount’s sides with her heels and moved closer to her guard. “We’re going to the work site. Lead on.”

The man raised his eyebrows, but silently turned his horse. 

“Excellent,” Derya said. “Finally, something more stimulating than marble palaces.”

Eliana ground her teeth. She wanted to like Derya, she really did. Neither of them had siblings, so both were destined to inherit their respective kingdoms. To be on good terms with the dominant empire in the western part of the continent of Ardebil would serve to maintain peace and stability. Everyone would benefit if she and Derya became friends. But Derya wasn’t making it easy. 

In a few moments, they reached the dig site. Crowds had gathered, some shouting, others wailing. Eliana guided her horse slowly through the throng, giving people time to move aside. When she neared the canal’s edge, a mud-spattered foreman ran up to her.

“It’s not safe, Highness. Please don’t go any further.”

“Can you tell me what happened?”

“The earthquake last week weakened the sides of the canal. Before we could finish the repairs, the rains came and eroded the earth around the supports. So we closed the dam’s gates and drained the canal to continue the work. With the water pressure no longing holding up the stones, they collapsed.” He grimaced. “Workers are trapped. I’m not sure how many.”

“Can you get them out?”

“I don’t know. When the canal sides fell, it weakened the supports. I fear the dam will collapse before we can reach the men. Half the workers are trying to shore up the dam. Others are working on the rescue.”

“Have you sent word to my father?”

“Yes, Highness. But we don’t have long to wait. Our mages are doing what they can, but their power aren’t enough.” The man shuddered. “At least it’s not a sinkhole.”

Eliana’s throat clenched. Falling into a sinkhole was worse than drowning, indeed. Anyone sucked down into the dark, underground realm of Malkh never returned. Legend claimed that monsters who were half fish and half goat devoured them. Eliana wasn’t sure she believed those tales, but she wasn’t about to venture below to find out for herself.

“Can’t we do something?” Derya asked.

“Us?” Eliana tensed in her saddle. Derya wanted to help?

“Yes, us. You’ve got air magic and I’ve got water.”

This was true. Eliana tilted her head as she considered. At seventeen, neither she nor Derya were supposed to use their magic without supervision. It was a shocking idea. 

And an intriguing one. As royals, they possessed more power than most mages. Using their magic could save many lives. Besides, the workers could die before other aid arrived. Eliana tossed her reins to the foreman. “We’ll help.” She jumped from her mount and looked up at Derya. “What are you waiting for?”

Derya grinned. “For you to quit being the perfect Ymittosian princess, I suppose.”

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