Morgan Rhodes' New Short Story "Crimson Dagger" Is A Sneak Peek Into Magnus's Childhood — EXCLUSIVE REVEAL

Fans of New York Times' bestselling author Morgan Rhodes are in for a huge surprise: the fantasy novelist has written a Falling Kingdoms short story in advance of the release of the fifth book! "Crimson Dagger" is a prequel to the series, and Bustle is proud to exclusively reveal Part I of the story. Part II will be available on Monday at PenguinTeen's official website

"Crimson Dagger" centers on one of the most beloved characters from the books, Prince Magnus. Fans of the tormented, mysterious prince are definitely in for an amazing year: Magnus also graces the cover of the fifth book, Crystal Stormwhich will be released on Dec. 13, 2016. In the forthcoming book, Magnus and his wife, Cleo, will be forced to test the strength of love when the cruel King Gaius, Magnus' father, returns to Mytica as a new man — one seeking redemption. 

In "Crimson Dagger," Rhodes introduces us to Magnus as he was before the events of the series unfolded. In this heartbreaking tale, a young Magnus experiences a life-changing event — one that impacts him for years to come and shapes him into the man he becomes. Bustle is proud to exclusively present Part I of "Crimson Dagger." Read it below, and read Part II on Monday at PenguinTeen

CRIMSON DAGGER: 

A Falling Kingdoms Short Story 

The sun bouncing off the icicles outside his bedchamber’s window stirred Magnus from a deep sleep. He stretched his legs and shivered. Still groggy, he saw that the fire that kept his bedchamber warm despite the frigid chill of Limeros had gone out. His wool blanket had been cast aside. The only warmth came from the girl in his bed.

Which was odd, since he had not started the night with a girl in his bed.

“Amia . . .” he murmured, assuming that his favored kitchen maid had joined him in the wee hours of dawn.

“Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not Amia.”

The press of cold steel against his throat made his eyes shoot wide open. He stared up into the furious gaze of a girl with brown eyes and long honey-blond hair as she threw her leg over his torso, forcing her all her weight on top of him. She was fully dressed in leather trousers and woolen cape.

“No,” he agreed. “Definitely not Amia.”

A flash of crimson made him think that she’d already drawn blood, but then he realized the sharp dagger she clutched had a crimson-colored hilt. “Would you like to guess who I am?” she asked.

A flash of crimson made him think that she’d already drawn blood, but then he realized the sharp dagger she clutched had a crimson-colored hilt. “Would you like to guess who I am?” she asked.

“Do I have a choice?”

“No.”

“Fair enough.” He swallowed hard, feeling the sharp edge of the blade far too acutely for him to dismiss this as a dream, and summoned his wits about him—as many as could be gathered at such short notice. “I will guess that you are a beautiful but deadly assassin, paid to kill me.”

“Wrong. Nobody paid me.”

“So . . . an unpaid assassin then.”

“Not by trade.”

“How many have you killed?”

“Men? Four. Princes with their snobbish royal heads stuck up their arses? None. At least not until today.” Her eyes narrowed. “Guess again who I am.”

He searched her face, trying not to give in to any glimmer of fear. In his seventeen years, he’d never had his life threatened before. Well, not quite so blatantly, anyway. He had enemies, of course. Many who called themselves friends whose smiles and friendly expressions fell away, he knew, when his back was turned.

He searched her face, trying not to give in to any glimmer of fear. In his seventeen years, he’d never had his life threatened before. Well, not quite so blatantly, anyway. He had enemies, of course. Many who called themselves friends whose smiles and friendly expressions fell away, he knew, when his back was turned.

He was the son of the King of Blood, heir to the throne of Limeros. All were required by law to be courteous and cordial to him—all except the king himself, of course.

“Oh, yes . . .” he began. “I remember now. It was a banquet, say, three months ago. You are the daughter of Lord and Lady Modias, the one who requested the honor of my company while I was busy speaking with Lord Lenardo—”

“No,” she snapped. “I’m not some random girl from a party. Give it a little more thought, you pompous arse, and I’m sure you can figure it out. One more chance.”

This time he focused harder. On the golden color of her hair . . . Yes, it now seemed more familiar. On her eyes. On the curve of her jaw, the freckles on her nose and cheeks.

Magnus imagined her younger, standing in a snowstorm and growing smaller in the distance as she ran away from him.

“Kara,” he whispered. “Kara Stolo.”

“Aha.” She gave him the cold edge of a smile. “There it is. I knew you couldn’t have forgotten the girl whose life you destroyed.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” he said, his voice harsh. Even to him, it sounded like a lie.

“Yes it most definitely was your fault,” she hissed, leaning closer and digging the dagger deeper into his flesh. “And tonight you’re going to pay the price for what you did.”

Ten Years Ago

Magnus had made a very important decision: he was running away from home.

“And you’re coming with me,” he told his little sister, Lucia, as they lay on the floor of their playchamber.

“Where are we going?” she asked, looking up from one of the few storybooks their father allowed them. It told the story of the radiant goddess Valoria in a way that allowed children to better understand her laws and rules and greatness. Lucia particularly liked the drawings of the goddess performing miracles with her water and earth magic, such as creating a waterfall out of dry rock so her humble subjects could ease their thirst.

Magnus had looked at the pictures, but at seven years old he didn’t share the interest in reading that his smart and eager five-year-old sister had.

“South,” he told her. “To Auranos.”

She cocked her head, her raven-black curls bouncing. “But we were just there! And you got hurt! Why would you want to go back?”

He touched the bandage on his right cheek that covered the wound, one that surely would leave a horrible scar. He knew he couldn’t tell his sister about the injury, not more than she already knew. She would be devastated to know that it was their father who’d done it, a cruel reaction to Magnus’s foolish attempt to steal a shiny, jeweled dagger.

Thievery was considered to be as evil as murder in Limeros, with the harshest of penalties.

His throat closed and tears threatened to fall, but he forced them back. He was the big brother, and he needed to be strong. In Auranos, he’d met the royal Bellos family, who had been so kind and warm and welcoming—three qualities that the Damoras didn’t share. The memory of their daughter, Princess Cleiona, the same age as Lucia, with bright golden hair that matched the warm Auranian sun, gave him hope since their return to frozen, gloomy Limeros that his future might be just as bright.

His throat closed and tears threatened to fall, but he forced them back. He was the big brother, and he needed to be strong.

But once they’d returned, nothing had changed. He hated it here. And he hated his father.

He thought that if he journeyed there and asked politely, that the Bellos family might accept him into their family.

“Just trust me, Sister,” he told Lucia. “Pack what you value and let’s go.”

She shook her head. “I can’t leave and neither can you. I’m going to tell Father!”

“No.” He grasped her wrist, anger flaring up like fire within him. “You can’t tell him. Please, promise me you won’t say anything!”

She let out a shaky little sigh, her shoulders slumping. “Very well. I promise.”

“I’ll come back for you. Someday. All right?”

She nodded, and her bottom lip wobbled. “I’ll miss you so much.”

Magnus kissed her forehead and stood up on shaky legs. Determination swelled in his chest as he took his small satchel filled with a change of clothing and several gold coins in a cloth pouch that he’d stolen from his father, sneaked past their nursemaid, who dozed in a chair just outside the door to their activity room, and moved down the hall with purpose. Not a single guard stationed throughout the palace asked him any questions about his destination as he passed by them. For all they knew, he was headed to the chapel to pray to the goddess.

He pulled the hood up on his black canvas cloak. He’d taken it from a servant’s son as a disguise, but he knew the thin fabric would do little to keep him warm. He pulled it closer and braced himself against the cold night as he left the palace. There was a small village two miles’ journey from the palace that would be his first destination. There he’d use the coins he’d stolen to bribe an adult to help him get passage aboard a ship to Auranos. He would tell no one who he was.

A storm brewed in the night skies, thick clouds blocking the moon and all stars. Lit only by torches set into the roadway, the two miles had felt like a hundred miles, but finally he made it to the village. Shivering, he pushed open the door to a meeting house, busy with patrons eating dinner and complaining about the weather.

“Look at this.” One man chewing some gristly meat with his mouth open nodded toward him. “Some entertainment has arrived.”

“I don’t know,” his friend sneered toward Magnus. “Doesn’t look all that entertaining to me. Tell me, child. Where’s your mama on a bitterly cold night like tonight? Might she like to help warm me up?”

They both laughed loudly at this, bits of meat flying from the first man’s mouth.

Magnus narrowed his eyes. “How dare you speak to me like that!”

“Oh, well, forgive me, little lord.” They continued laughing.

Magnus bit his bottom lip. He didn’t want to let on that he was the prince. He was simply a boy looking for a means of travel to a better place.

Magnus bit his bottom lip. He didn’t want to let on that he was the prince. He was simply a boy looking for a means of travel to a better place.

“I have coin,” he said. “I want to go to Auranos.”

“Do I look like a ship to you?” the second man said. “Or perhaps a horse with a wagon behind me? Begone, little one.”

“Wait,” the first man said, his gaze honing in on Magnus’s face, partially shadowed by the hood of his cloak. “You say you have coin?”

“I . . .” Magnus hesitated then, sensing danger.

Stupid, he chastised himself. It was so stupid to announce such a thing. “Never mind.” He turned away, but the man gripped his wrist, drawing him closer.

“Give it here,” the man sneered. “Could use some coin, myself. Spent my last one on this meal.”

Without any effort at all, the man yanked Magnus’s satchel away from him with enough force to rattle his bones. He dug around inside until he found the small pouch of coins. He opened the drawstrings and looked inside, his brows rising. “Very nice. Did you steal this? Is there more where this came from? Telle me where you got this, child.”

Before he looked up, Magnus turned and fled the meeting house, leaving his satchel behind, breathing so rapidly in his panic to escape that he was certain his insides would freeze.

It had started to snow, large flakes pelting him in the face and gathering in his hair. He pulled his hood up, drawing his cloak around him as the wind whipped and snow stuck to his face and hair.

He started walking, uncertain which direction to take. Behind him, he could see the Limerian palace in the distance—a massively tall black castle looming over the village, its dark, spikey towers slicing into the night sky. He wondered if his father had noticed his absence yet. Magnus touched his bandaged cheek and turned away from the castle. No, he’d never go back. He’d rather freeze to death than see his father ever again.

He wondered if his father had noticed his absence yet. Magnus touched his bandaged cheek and turned away from the castle. No, he’d never go back.

He walked in circles, trying to come up with a plan, trying to figure out a way to board a ship without a single coin to spend or a single possession to his name other than the clothes on his back. The night grew darker, and when Magnus stopped his aimless wandering for a moment, he looked around and realized with a sickening feeling in his gut that he was lost.

A shout to his left caught his attention, coming from the alley in between two village shops. Tentatively, he moved close enough to peer down the corridor.

It was the man who’d taken his pouch of coins earlier. A much larger man had him pressed up against the outside of a building. He held a large silver dagger with a crimson-colored hilt to his throat. In his other hand was Magnus’s pouch.

“You must have more,” the larger man snarled. “C’mon, be a nice fella and share your riches.”

“It was a kid,” the first man sputtered. “I got that from a little kid.”

“Sure you did.”

The first man turned and met Magnus’s gaze. “That kid right there!”

The thief’s attention shifted to Magnus. Magnus grimaced as he saw the massive scar over the thief’s entire left cheek.

“Well, look at that,” the thief said, raising a thick black eyebrow. “You are a little kid.”

The first man took the opportunity to shove the thief and slip away.

Magnus raised his hands, fighting back tears. “Don’t hurt me.”

The thief weighed the coin pouch in his hand and studied Magnus’s cowering form. “I don’t hurt kids. Actually I don’t hurt anyone, despite what you just saw. Intimidation, sure. But nobody’s blood will spill because of me.” He showed Magnus the dagger. “I painted the hilt red to remind me of that. I spilled plenty of blood in the past, but that part of my life is over.”

“Papa,” a small voice said from the shadows. “Can I come out now?”

The thief hissed out a sigh. “Not yet, Kara.”

“I’m already out.” A little blond girl came to the man’s side, putting her hand into his as he sheathed his dagger. “Who’re you?” she asked Magnus.

Her light, golden hair—it reminded him so much of the princess in the south. Just the sight of it calmed him.

Her light, golden hair—it reminded him so much of the princess in the south. Just the sight of it calmed him.

Before he could reply, likely with the first lie that came to him about his true identity, the thief spoke.

“What? You don’t recognize the heir to the throne, the son of King Gaius Damora himself?” The thief bowed his head. “Greetings, Prince Magnus. May I be so bold as to ask what you’re doing out on such a foul evening?”

Magnus stared at him with shock and more than a trace of panic circling in his gut. “You know who I am?”

“I do. I worked for your father until recently. I was one of those guards that little princes like you take no notice of.” He paused, as if waiting for this to sink in. “This isn’t a safe place for you, your grace.”

“I’m not afraid.” Even as he said it, he heard the shameful tremor in his voice that belied this claim.

“Oh, but you should be.”

Magnus tried to look as regal and composed as his father always demanded he appear. If this man had been a palace guard, surely he knew how to take orders. “What is your name?”

The man bowed his head. “I am Calum Stolo, your grace. And this is my daughter, Kara.”

It was working. He kept this command in his voice, trying to feel much more mature and poised than a seven-year-old boy. “Very good. Calum, I command you to find me passage aboard a ship bound for Auranos. I wish to leave immediately.”

“Mm hmm.” Calum glanced down at his daughter. “What do you think I should do?”

Kara shrugged. “Get him to a ship?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why did you run away?” Kara asked him.

Again, her hair made him think of Auranos—its warm days, green meadows, and constant blue sky. “Because I hate my father.”

“Everyone hates your father,” Calum said, then frowned. “Well, not everyone. Some are just afraid of him. But I know one thing about King Gaius that leads me not to do as you request, your grace.”

Disappointment crashed through him, and Magnus turned a sharp look up at the tall man. “What?”

“If he finds out his only son and heir has gone missing, he will personally tear all three kingdoms of Mytica apart from north to south searching for you. Do you have any idea how many people would get hurt? Killed? All because you decided you wanted to leave your pampered, privileged life?”

“You said you don’t like blood spilling anymore.” Magnus furiously pointed at his bandage. “He gave me this! He called it a lesson and swore me to secrecy!”

Calum didn’t speak for a moment as he silently stroked his own scar. “I’m sorry for your pain, your grace. Truly. But life is a series of injuries. Our scars are like the rings in a tree trunk, showing its progress through life. How we heal and move forward through adversity . . . that is what makes the difference. We can’t run from our problems; we need to face them.” His expression grew serious, his brow furrowing. “Come. I will take you back to your home.”

"I’m sorry for your pain, your grace. Truly. But life is a series of injuries. Our scars are like the rings in a tree trunk, showing its progress through life. How we heal and move forward through adversity . . . that is what makes the difference. We can’t run from our problems; we need to face them.”

Magnus wanted to argue, wanted to rant and scream and make demands. But was this man right? Would his father really kill many people for his decision to run away?

Yes. Of course he would.

With a heavy heart, Magnus reluctantly allowed Calum Stolo and his daughter to accompany him back to the palace. As soon as they entered the palace grounds, guards rushed forward to surround the trio. The sound of heavy footsteps came down the frozen pathway, and the guards parted to let a furious King Gaius through.

The king’s anger wasn’t focused on Magnus, though. It was focused on Calum.

“You would dare steal my son away from me?” the king snarled. “For what? Ransom? Is that what you thought?”

A guard ripped the pouch of coins away from Calum and gave it to the king, who inspected it carefully. “Magnus, come here.”

With only a second’s hesitation, Magnus went to his father’s side.

The king shook the pouch in Magnus’s face. “Did he steal this from you?”

No, Magnus stole them from his father. But the admittance of this died on his tongue. Instead, he found himself nodding, shameful tears welling in his eyes, so frightened that he was now trembling. Magnus glanced at Kara, clutching her father’s strong hand, and quickly looked away, shamed by his lie.

But the admittance of this died on his tongue. Instead, he found himself nodding, shameful tears welling in his eyes, so frightened that he was now trembling.

“You’re home.” His father put his hand firmly on Magnus’s shoulder, then crouched down in front of him. “You’re safe. Thank the goddess.”

“Your majesty—” Calum began.

“Silence.” The king rose to his full intimidating height, his face a mask of hatred. “I allowed you to leave your post, Stolo, since you were unable to continue doing your job to the level I required after your injury. And this is how you repay me for that kindness? By abducting my son and stealing from us?” He nodded at the guards. “Take him to the dungeons. I want him executed immediately.”

“No! Papa!” A cry escaped from Kara as her father was dragged away by guards toward the dungeon.

“Let my daughter go!” Calum demanded. “She had nothing to do with this.”

“Yes.” The king nodded and flicked his finger. “Let the girl go. She can freeze out there tonight for all I care.”

Kara’s wide eyes were on Magnus, expectantly, as if hoping he might say something to stop this.

But Magnus had no words. He couldn’t admit the truth, not now. His punishment would be far worse than any cut cheek. Lies—especially to the king himself—were often met with the liar’s tongue cut from his head.

I’m so sorry, he thought as the little girl—tears streaming down her freckled cheeks—turned and ran away into the cold, snowy night.

To Be Continued...

On Monday, head over to PenguinTeen for Part II of "Crimson Dagger." Plus, be sure to pre-order your copy of Crystal Stormout on Dec. 13, 2016.

Images: Shanon Fujioka

Must Reads