Ava’s Quest – Chapter One

Crown’s Peak Series Book Two: Ava’s Quest

Ava's Quest

Ava’s Quest


The city of Crowns Peak seethes with scandalous politics, seditious plots, and magical power. On a good day.

Sixteen-year-old Ava worries about passing her classes and flirting a little with her best guy friend until she uncovers a secret that threatens everything she loves—

An unstable king, a treasonous duke, and a lonely dragon who have only one thing in common: a magically cursed knife. The dragon made it. The duke commissioned it. The king will do anything to keep it.

To save her nation and those she holds dear, Ava will steal it…


Chapter One

Traitor

Guards hustled the prisoners into the throne room, lit by the late afternoon sun and oil lanterns burning in their sconces. Ava and her friends shuffled forward, ironwood boards creaking under their weight, until the guards yanked the chains attached to the magic-stealing shackles on their wrists. Ava stiffened trembling knees and fought back tears. Eight days of hard riding on relay horses, each day plagued with a runny nose, watering eyes, and frequent sneezes, as well as magic spilling from her body with every step thanks to the shackles, had taken their toll. She just wanted this day to be over. Perhaps being hanged and then beheaded as a traitor and oathbreaker would hurt less.

But sixteen was too young to die.

The door behind the empty throne opened and more of the black-clad guards filed into the throne room, as quiet as a knife leaving the sheath.

Their liege, King Alistair the Just, followed the guards in. His steps faltered and wove as he passed his throne and made his way to the prisoners. His white and gold robes hung from bony shoulders, his blond hair had gone ashen, and a greedy madness filled his once-kind face.

Duke Severn followed two steps behind.

Ava fought to keep the snarl off her face as Guard Banris smugly greeted Duke Severn. “I told you, Father, that I would bring the traitors home.”

The guards yanked the shackles and kicked the prisoners. Their knees buckled and smashed into the floor. The chains gouged the ironwood boards. Ava felt faintly sorry for the servant who would be tasked with sanding and polishing out the marks of their captivity.

The king pushed his guards aside to stoop over her. “Ava.” He spat the name, and flecks of spittle hit her face. “Where is my knife?”

Ava fought to keep her eyes away from her companions. Despite herself, she sneaked a quick glance at the disowned prince, who glared at his father. She had talked them into surrendering. If their plan didn’t work…

Guard Banris thrust the puzzle box into her shackled hands. “Here,” he snapped. “Open it for your king.”

Ava slid the pieces of wood in their correct order. She held out the bit of emerald silk, careful not to touch the item inside, and offered it up to her poor, cursed liege.

Prince Braedon shouted, “Ava, don’t!”

Ava heard flesh strike flesh, then more chains clanking against ironwood, and knew the prince had been beaten to his knees. Ava bit her lip and tasted blood. “Please, Majesty,” she whimpered. “Please don’t unwrap it.”

Duke Severn stepped forward and placed a cautionary hand on his son’s arm. Three moons’ search for the traitors had obviously not dampened his appetite: the buttons on his doublet strained and his skin shined from an excess of greasy food. “My king.” The duke smiled obsequiously. “Allow me.”

“No.” King Alistair bent over his prize like a death bird, plucking at the cloth.
“Please, Father.” Braedon struggled to turn his head under the guard’s knee. “Don’t.”

The king ignored everyone, madness obvious on his face, as he separated the cloth. His expression changed to confusion when he uncovered the iridescent white stone.

Duke Severn’s mouth hung open. Banris stilled. Dust motes hung in the air. Ava held her breath.

King Alistair’s face darkened. “What is this?” he demanded, shoving the white stone under her nose.

Her eyes crossed until she looked past the stone to the king. “That’s the knife, Majesty,” she said. “We each sacrificed—”

No!” King Alistair screamed, fingers tightening. “I want my knife, not some gods-bedamned rock.”

He drew back his fist. His knuckles whitened. Ava braced herself as best she could.

“Traitor!” King Alistair smashed his fist into Ava’s face.

Her nose shattered. A starburst of pain jolted down her spine all the way to her knees. Even worse than the physical pain was the betrayal.


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