Capture the Crown (Gargoyle Queen #1) by Jennifer Estep

“But what about your theory that the Morricones are plotting something?” Topacia asked. “At least, something more dastardly than usual?”

Over the past two months, through my network of sources, I’d learned of several disturbing incidents in Andvari, all of them close to the Mortan border. A caravan of merchants murdered by bandits. A cave-in at a small mine that had claimed the lives of several workers. A group of royal guards who’d been swept away by a violent thunderstorm and the resulting flash flood.

On their own, each tragedy had seemed like an unrelated incident, but when considered all together, they had roused my suspicions. So as part of my ambassador duties, I had spent the past few weeks visiting the site of every attack and mishap. Along with offering my condolences to the victims’ families, I’d discreetly conducted my own investigations, and I’d discovered one common thread between all the incidents—tearstone.

The merchant caravan, the mine, and the guards had all had hundreds of pounds of tearstone in their possession—ore that had never been recovered.

Tearstone was often used for jewelry and art, but it could also be crafted into weapons, like the dagger in my boot. My theory was that someone was stockpiling tearstone—someone in Morta, given that all the incidents had occurred within just a few miles of the border. Of course, the most likely suspects were the Morricones, specifically Queen Maeven, although a few Mortan noble families were also wealthy and powerful enough to make all that tearstone vanish without a trace.

As for what that person wanted with the ore, well, I doubted their plans included anything as benign as making necklaces or statues, given the dozens of people they’d already killed. My fear was that Maeven was going to somehow use the tearstone to try to assassinate my father and grandfather—again.

Several months after the Seven Spire massacre, the Bastard Brigade, a group of Morricone bastard-born royals, had tried to murder my father and had dosed my grandfather with amethyst-eye poison. Thanks to Queen Everleigh’s intervention, Father and Grandfather Heinrich had both survived, but just barely.

I had already lost Uncle Frederich to Maeven’s machinations, and she wasn’t going to take anyone else from me.

But I’d grown even more worried two weeks ago, when a forewoman named Clarissa had sent a letter to Glitnir, to Grandfather Heinrich, saying that several shipments of tearstone had disappeared from the Blauberg mine—much larger shipments than what had vanished so far.

Things went missing all the time in mines, since they were literally dark holes in the ground, so my grandfather and father hadn’t thought much of the letter. But to me, it was another suspicious incident in an increasingly long and alarming chain of tragedies—especially since Clarissa had died in a mining accident three days later.

Clarissa’s death had struck me as entirely too convenient, so I had rushed to Blauberg to investigate. I had been too late to gather much intelligence at the other sites, but I was hoping this time would be different.

“My theory is just a theory—until I find proof that it’s not,” I said, finally answering Topacia. “Go back into the city, and see if you can pick up any more gossip about the Mortan nobles. I’ll work my shift and try to figure out who is smuggling tearstone out of the mine.”

Topacia nodded, slipped out of the alley, and left.

I started to head toward the mine when something brushed up against my mind. The new, unexpected presence was as soft as a feather tickling my skin, but I still froze. No thoughts buzzed in my ears, but my gargoyle pendant grew warm against my chest again, and my fingertips tingled as though I were clutching a lightning bolt. The tingling sensation meant one worrisome thing—that someone or something around here had magic.

Very powerful magic.

My gaze swept over the street, the plaza, and the mine entrance, but everything was the same. Miners trudging to work, merchants hawking their wares, carts of ore rattling along the metal tracks.

A shadow zoomed by overhead, momentarily blotting out the sun, and that faint presence brushed up against my mind again. Who—or what—was that?

I grabbed the dagger out of my boot and walked to the opposite end of the alley. Then I reached out with my magic, searching for that faint presence. It was over . . . there.

I slipped from one alley to the next like I was chasing a feather drifting along on the breeze. Eventually, the last alley opened up into a wooded area, and I darted into the trees and crept forward, peering around a maple to find . . .