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King of Always: Chapter 2

Forget Me Not


find a pair of bright blue lights beaming down on me. Nope, not lights, they’re narrowed, angry-looking eyes.

Strands of poppy-red hair tickle my cheeks and nose, making me sneeze loudly. Someone grunts—the owner of the ticklish hair whose pale face hovers above me like a nightmarish wraith. He sounds male.

My gaze focuses, and I scan him quickly, relieved to find that he has a nose, a mouth, two arms and two legs. It’s a man who’s found me, not a ghost or a dinosaur. And that’s good news. I think.

Pleased to note I haven’t broken every bone in my body and can actually move, I push onto an elbow and bump noses with the frowning red-haired guy. A fae, I presume, going by his fancy peacock-blue leather armor. I peer around his steel-capped shoulders and check out my surroundings. I seem to be in a damp musty cave, not a luxurious castle chamber.

Damn that Sally Salamande.

“Ow, shit, that really hurts.” I rub my nose. “How about you back off and give me some space?”

“Of course,” he says politely as he stands and draws a long blade from an ornate belt at his waist. “Why do you say shit? I understand the meaning, but what has it got to do with anything? Have you landed in gnome dung?”

Oh, yeah, he’s most definitely a fae. And with that lethal-looking sword, possibly a violent one.

“Easy,” I say, ignoring his question. “You won’t be needing that weapon. I’m not sure about you yet, but I certainly don’t bite.”

His red brows rise, and he studies me more closely.

Hopefully, this dude is an Elemental fae and can direct me to the Emerald Castle where I’ll find Lara and her family, and they’ll be shocked and surprised but ultimately overjoyed by my arrival, enfolding me in warm hugs as they break out the mulberry wine.

I give him a friendly smile. “Are you going to tell me who are you?” I wriggle until I’m sitting cross-legged on the dusty floor. “Damn. My clothes are wet! How did that happen?”

Golden light flickers on the trees outside the cave’s entrance. It’s daytime, then. Water gushes behind me. I look around and see a waterfall. A huge one! Have I been for an accidental swim?

“My name is Kian.” His nostrils flare like he smells something bad. “And you are a human.”

Tall and thin and sporting far too many shiny straps and buckles on his extravagant armor, he inspects me while wearing a malicious expression that I’d most definitely find worrying if I didn’t already know who he is.

Kian Leondearg—a childhood friend of Ever and Raff’s and, according to Lara, a first-class jerk. A massive pain in the ass who, rumor has it, is fortunately more talk than action. The shiny-blue cape he wears matches his forget-me-not eyes and is an interesting addition to his fae warrior’s armor. It screams try-hard attempting to mask an inferiority complex with extravagant clothes. It fits the profile Lara gave me—a bully, with a giant chip on his shoulder.

“The portal you entered through is behind the waterfall. That is why you’re wet. I was nearby tormenting a wandering sea witch and heard the portal open. It makes an unholy racket. And now, thanks to you, I’ve lost her. Do you have a name, mortal?”

“I do. It’s Isla.”

An unpleasant smirk slides over his face—in the way of all fae, he’s strikingly handsome, but a nasty energy rolls off him, spoiling the effect of his beauty. He frowns. “Why is your name familiar to me?”

“I have no idea,” I lie. He must have heard Lara or Ever mention me. “Where am I? I’m telling you now; it had better be near the Emerald Castle or I’m going to scream again.”

He goes unnaturally still. “What do you know of it?”

“I have friends there.” I’d be wise to pretend I’ve never heard of Kian the Painful, but to ensure he doesn’t chop my head off with that sword, I probably should mention my royal connections pretty damn quick. “Do you know Ever?”

A mix of shock and amusement infuses his face. “That would be Prince Everend to you.”

“If you say so. He’s my cousin’s husband.”

“Oh, is he now?” Sly interest sparks in his gaze. “And what is your cousin’s name?”

“Lara. She must have mentioned me.”

“Oh, yes. Lara has most definitely spoken of her cousin who is currently living in safety in the human city of Blackbrook. If you are this alleged cousin, there has been no mention of your visit. And, besides, with your mortal talent for telling untruths, I cannot be sure that you are who you say you are. You could be a Merit, glamored with an unpleasant human scent and countenance.”

“I promise I’m Lara’s cousin. Why would I lie to you?”

“Now that is a stupid question. To say one thing and mean something entirely different is a great power. It is a freedom I can only dream of possessing. Rise, girl. And I will bring you fairly close to where Lara dwells.”

“Only close to?” I stand and brush mud and tiny glittering stones off my wet clothes. “Sorry, but that won’t do. I want you to take me straight to her.”

“Then I must apologize. It is the best offer I can make to a prisoner.”

“What? No way. I’m definitely not your prisoner. Take me to Ever if you don’t believe me. He’ll confirm who I am.”

He snarls and starts toward me, polished boots kicking up clouds of silvery dust.

I push my palms out, a measly barrier. “Kian, wait…try asking me some questions. Lara’s told me many things about the city and—”

“Silence,” he commands.

I zip my lips and shuffle backward, closer and closer to the pond and the waterfall. I’m too cold to get wet again, but if I have to, I’m prepared to jump in.

Laughing, he stalks forward, dips a shoulder into my stomach, and throws me over his back. Then he strides out of the cave, bouncing me through the upside-down ruins of a black stone castle.

Holy cow. This wasn’t part of my plan. Here in the Land of Five, I’m related to royalty, so Kian must be committing some kind of treason by treating me this way.

The wild sound of waves crashing somewhere far below almost drowns out my shouts as I kick and punch Kian’s body. Calm down, Isla, think. We’re near the sea, and I believe we’ve just walked through the ruins of the Black Castle, which means I most likely landed in the Moonstone Cave, kind of right on target. Thank God I listened carefully to all those stories Lara told.

A blazing neon sunset behind us, we enter a thick covering of trees—a forest with deep shadows, chirping birds, and screeching who-the-hell-knows-what. Could be monkeys for all I know, which is fine. As long as they don’t have terribly long fangs and an insatiable taste for human flesh.

Okay. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the infamous Ithalah Forest where Ever found Lara after Ether dumped her in Faery. I’m on the coast and within walking distance to the Emerald Castle. Miraculously, it seems Sally has kept to our bargain and transported me to the correct place. All is well. Except for the berry-haired fiend whose butt my bouncing head is currently massaging.

“Stop thrashing about,” says the fiend. “And be quiet or I shall cease your mewling permanently.”

That doesn’t sound like fun, so I stop moving and pay attention to my surroundings, upside down and confusing as they are.

The fresh smell of pine needles clears my blood-filled head a little as we travel downhill, weaving through scrub and around giant boulders that block the wooded trail. A few creatures scratch and hoot as dusk falls, but I remain quiet.

I wasn’t afraid when I woke in the cave, but my sense of unease is growing. I don’t trust this guy at all. His vibe is similar to my dad’s, who Mom divorced when I was seven. A frustrated guy itching for a fight, his longing to cause pain is almost tangible, floating in the air around us, setting off alarm bells inside me.

When the sky is black, he steps out of the forest into a large, flat area, sliding me down his front until my feet nearly touch the ground but, before they do, he spins me quickly so we’re both looking in the same direction.

I grunt in surprise, not from his rough handling but because, even in the dark, I recognize the Emerald Castle’s spires. The iridescent needles pierce the star-studded sky in exactly the way Lara described them. Breathtaking and surreal. And just how Lara’s mom painted them.

Dangling like a puppet, I can only gape and imagine the many splendors of the town—the green tourmaline pathway that winds up to the castle, gushing waterfalls, emerald towers, black-jet walls, the vast columns of the Great Hall, and the beautiful, horrible creatures within. So many wonders. And magic everywhere!

I wriggle in his grasp. “That’s the city of Talamh Cúig…so you decided to bring me here after all.”

“Yes, to Stone Hill and the back of the city at least.” With a sharp wrench, he turns me to face him, then shifts his grip to my jacket collar, leaving me hanging nose-to-nose with him. “I hope you’ve looked your fill, human, because that may very well be the most you’ll ever see of the Emerald Castle.”

“What? Aren’t we going there now?”

“No, we most certainly aren’t.” His voice drops to a rumbling whisper. “You’re bound for the dungeons below that pretty castle. And I am bound for a romp in my chambers with three delightfully wicked trooping sylphs.”

I have no idea what a trooping sylph is, but I certainly don’t plan on visiting the dungeons. I kick him hard, pleasure spiking when he winces. “Put me down you shit-for-brains douchebag jerkwad! Prick!”

His thin lips stretch into a cruel smile that sends chills skittering down my spine.

I may be scared, but fury blazes through me. “You know what, you smug, pointy-beaked, red-headed stepchild?”

Scarlet eyebrows twist in confusion. I totally get that—because I don’t even know what I’m talking about. “You’re going to catch hell when Ever hears what a complete dick you’ve been to me.”

He snorts. “Fortunately, angering the Prince of Air is one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve missed him while he’s been wasting time in the Earth realm. Now shut your vulgar mouth before I do it for you.”

He waves his long fingers, and a spray of toxic-smelling dirt hits my face.

Earth magic, I think as I spit and cough, choking on the vile stuff.

And then I don’t think at all.

I can’t—because I’m dead.


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