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Song of Sorrows and Fate: Chapter 8

The Storyteller

Cuyler wasted no time and unsheathed a dagger. He flicked his eyes to my boot, a silent command that I needed to do the same. The knife from a small ankle sheath was in my grip in another breath.

We abandoned the burial grounds and cut through the sickly wood back to the main road of the Row. The faint hint of woodsmoke grew, though I saw no fires nearby, no stoves.

“Calista.” Cuyler took hold of my arm and aimed me toward my tenement.

A shock, the kind that stopped the heart, rammed into my chest. Blood fae watchers muttered curses and surrounded me on either side. The people of the Row were silent. Almost as though they’d known this would happen all along.

Near the shoreline, perhaps fifty paces from my crooked, debauchery-ruined building, a stone torch spluttered with a flame, black as a starless sky.

“No.” My knees went weak. My family. They were under attack. Thoughts tumbled in my skull. Their faces slid into my consciousness, one after the other. Ari and Saga, they would be frantic. Little Mira. Was she properly hidden in those troll burrows her father had spent turns designing?

The twin terrors of the East. They always wanted to be at their father’s side. Would they use their unmatched skill with those damn whalebone picks I’d gifted them and chase after the Shadow King and Queen? Would they fall?

My Kind Heart. My Cursed King. Tears blurred my eyes. They’d all fought so damn desperately for love, for peace. What would happen to them now? My final thoughts settled on my Sun Prince. His missive, still in my pocket, burned like hot coals.

He’d sensed danger. No. I wouldn’t let this be when his nightmares came to pass. He wasn’t going to lose Torsten. He wouldn’t lose his son.

Heat scorched through my veins, from rage or fear, it didn’t matter. I wanted blood. I wanted bones. I wanted death for anyone who dared lift blades against my damn royals. Every surface of my skin ached in heat.

“Act, or take the blade to our throats yourself.”

I knew that voice. “Olaf?”

The old aleman pinched a brown pipe between his teeth and scrubbed a dirty cloth in a drinking horn. He was slender and bony like the weakling trees in the burial grounds, but his beard struck his belly and was beaded in bone beads the Rave warriors of my past once used.

I didn’t think he cared much for drying the horn, more he used it to keep his hands busy while he sneered at me. The bastard valued Stefan, and had always been kind. Now he looked utterly murderous.

“The end has come to us. Shall we greet the gods, little one, or do you prove whose blood runs in your veins?”

“How do you know?” My voice was shrill, desperate, but I didn’t understand. I’d learned the truth of my bloodline ten turns ago, but I’d never told anyone in Raven Row. I didn’t want trouble from the Mad King, or any foolish bastards who thought I had some royal treasury hidden in my tenement.

Olaf pointed at the bloody moon. “All tales must come to an end; ours comes now.”

At his word, the air grew icy and harsh. Gooseflesh prickled on my arms. Across the horizon, inky ribbons of dark skated across the sea. Violent tides tossed about like a stagnate wave, but through the shadows appeared the shape of different ships and vessels. Sharp bows, jagged hulls. Endless, tattered sails of blood red.

On the sea, I could see the ships I’d once been forced upon before. Dark clouds gathered in an angry storm, concealing the vessels from sight until I wondered if I’d imagined it all, until through the darkness I saw his eyes. A silhouette in the storm, but the massive spectral emerging to the surface was undeniable—Davorin was returning. He’d taken refuge in the sea, no mistake, amongst those damn sea fae, and now emerged stronger than before, new armies at his back.

Bleeding gods.

“Cuyler, do you see that?”

“See what?” Cuyler was gawking at the flame.

How the hells could he not see a damn sea army approaching?

A swift gust of wind pummeled against me. I closed my eyes, bracing, but another burst knocked me backward. What the hells was happening?

I tried to cry out for Cuyler, but my voice was swallowed in the storm. I tried to open my eyes, but dust and pebbles and bits of dried leaves beat at my skin. The whole of my Raven Row seemed to be turning against me. I could hardly stand in the torrent, how the hells was I supposed to fight an army?

The people of Raven Row knew how to lift bottles of ale, not blades. They’d be slaughtered. But there was little choice left. I would stand here, I’d fight for vengeance. For the pain of the North, the corruption of the East, for the secrets of the South. I’d fight for Stefan and the life he lost.

The wind worsened. I screamed, but sound was robbed away. The abuse lessened with each step I took away from the sea, as though the storm was beating me deeper into Raven Row. I needed to stop this. I needed to flee whatever power was taking hold here.

Sing. A low, rumbling whisper filled my head.

Sing? On the shore of the fae isles when Davorin was reaching his grimy fingers for my throat, I’d nearly burst to bloody pieces when my seidr erupted, not in mere words, but in a melody with a tune, a voice, behind my power that no one seemed to hear but me.

It was happening again. The same power built as though a flame were trapped, yearning to burst skyward.

I let the tune shape in my head, in my heart, until the song roved over me like warm honey. Two simple words I somehow knew would flow beautifully with the sad melody. Be still.

I flung my arms out to the sides and the heat from my blood scattered across the shoreline. A phantom tune echoed after it, like a voice carried on the boom of thunder. A blast of power whipped my pale hair around my face until I thought I might have lash marks over my cheeks.

When it eased, I glanced at the water. Peaceful, calm seas were all that greeted me. No army. No ghostly shadows of Davorin, but the Row was quiet. Eerily so.

My mouth parted at the sight. The people who’d been racing for their shacks at the sight of the black flame not moments before, were . . . still. As though they were sleeping on their feet, not frozen in place, merely unmoving.

“Cuyler?” I scrambled back to my feet and inspected my friend. His eyes were closed. His blades had fallen from his grip, and like the others, he was still.

What was happening?

Wind gathered again. It beat against me without mercy. I cried out when sand and water stung my eyes, and gust after relentless gust forced me back from the water’s edge.

“Cuyler!” I cried his name.

He was unmoving, as though asleep on his feet, the same as everyone. What had I done?

Wood splintered when the ground shook again. I screamed as rotted beams peeled off a nearby trade shack, nearly striking my head. More wind. More chaos. The buildings seemed to groan and creak, swaying side to side.

By the gods, something was devouring Raven Row. I fought to remain by Cuyler and his men. I couldn’t leave them so exposed and vulnerable.

Then sing with me, Little Rose.

“Who are you!” I screamed.

The whisper didn’t respond.

“Godsdammit!” I reeled away, shielding my face, when a slat from a nearby rooftop broke free and the rusted nails still in the board nearly impaled my eye as it swept past. The wind shoved me back, deeper into the Row.

When I couldn’t catch a breath against the flurry, I was forced to turn. I was forced to run.

My feet skidded over the mud. Blood raced in my skull. I didn’t look back, my gaze kept forward, desperate to find refuge long enough to hide, to think, to plan. To bleeding save the folk of my home from an attack I didn’t know how to stop.

Darkness coated Raven Row in thick waves. Blood pounded in my head. I couldn’t see a damn thing. Only a spinning maelstrom of dust and faint whispers.

I quickened my pace, desperate to find anyone. In the distance, dull light broke through the night devouring the roads and rooftops. Iron gates flung open at the end of the road, as though beckoning me inside. Darkness lived beyond, soaking spindly trees and thatched rooftops in cold night. There wasn’t another choice; I took the leap.

The knife slid out of my grip as I lunged through the gates of Hus Rose, the lands of the Mad King.

Face down in the long grass, I trembled and fought to draw in a deep enough breath. Groans and creaks came at my back. I whipped around in the same moment the heavy iron gates clanged shut.

I scrambled to my feet and curled my fingers around the bars of the gates, rattling them. A rush of panic took hold of my throat when they didn’t budge. Godsdammit, they were locked. I kicked at the gates once more, then an unnerving realization struck. With a slow turn, I looked back at Raven Row. The whole bleeding place had fallen into an empty, ghostly calm.

Where was the damn storm that had been raging through the grime moments ago? Where were the cracked windows, the debris, the sprays of wild sea?

A haunting hum flowed like velvet over the grounds. A somber voice that frightened me and softened the fear in my blood in the same breath. Like a damn hook to my chest, it tugged me forward with that first step. Buried deep in the back of my mind, heady trepidation grew. Warnings to keep back, to find a way out, flared like an instinct. But I could not halt my stride. I couldn’t turn back, too consumed by the mystery and unknowns.

My heart kept me walking deeper into the grounds, while my mind pleaded with me to flee.

Shadows spiraled around cracked stone pillars, a few crumbling statues, as though stone sentinels once stood watch here. Mist and tangled ivy swirled over cobblestone pathways like moving water. The grounds were different than the grime, soot, and reek of Raven Row. This was as though I’d stepped into a new world.

A dream.

I didn’t blink, didn’t breathe, and with every step the voice strengthened. I dipped my head beneath a few low-hanging branches onto a covered pathway. Tangled boughs shaped the archway overhead, and along the edges were black tallow candles lighting the way.

“Hello?”

A whistle of wind responded. I wasn’t a fool. To seek out the haunting spectral meant my world would change when I came to the other side. I’d told this to my bleeding queens more than once. Follow the nudge of fate, it was bound to upend their worlds. Did they listen? Not a damn one.

I’d always told myself I’d never be the reckless one. I’d never blindly go where my path unfolded. Like a constant thorn in the sides of the Norns, I planned to resist. To refuse.

Perhaps I owed my queens a bit of grace. In this moment, the desire to taunt fate with my refusals waned, and I yearned to follow the call forward. Warm as fire in the frosts, soothing as berry teas on the throat, I craved to discover whatever awaited me at the end of this path. I closed my eyes, pausing for a moment, simply reveling in the calm.

Some sort of tricky power must’ve soaked the soil of Hus Rose, for I could not recall the last time my pulse was so . . . peaceful. Like returning home to kind words and gentle, loving arms.

The longer I walked, the more the mist thinned and revealed a sprawling world of unseen darkness. Rune totems were broken. Trees were bare. Across the gray soil, dried leaves covered brittle stems of dying flowers.

Beauty once lived here. Through the somberness, I could see a world that might’ve been.

My fingertips were numb from the lingering gusts of wind by the time the pathway opened at the base of a wide staircase. My insides overturned. Hus Rose was deceptively large. From this angle of the grounds, the palace was like a dark beast. Black stone made up the walls, and across every arched window, dark drapes shielded the inner walls from the outside.

Iron sconces held torches as the only light, and I froze in place when two arched doors creaked, then swept over the landing at the top of the staircase.

Cast in a touch of gold from the torches, a figure emerged. Tall and imposing, the silhouette was masculine with strong shoulders. I licked my lips when the shadow paused before his full form became clear. A fleeting concern that Davorin had found me kept me quiet for a few breaths. But he didn’t feel like Davorin.

He felt . . . familiar.

“Who are you?”

No words, merely a deep, raspy laugh answered. A sound I absorbed to my bones, to the damn marrow. Such a simple thing, but it pulled me a step closer.

The way he stood, he was still concealed enough I couldn’t make him out fully. Truth be told, it was as though he strategically hid his features out of sight.

“Will you show yourself?”

“Show myself, she says.” He laughed again, his long legs paced in the darkness, the eerie moon casting a bloody outline of his body. “Why should I when you have run from me all this time?”

Run from him? He was on the grounds of Hus Rose. I had to be speaking to the Mad King.

“Do you know what it’s like?” His voice was gritty, unkind, yet flowed over my skin like a forgotten memory, as though my blood could not help but heat under the rough, burdened tone.

The sound burned through my veins like a rush of new blood, awakening some dormant light that radiated to my damn soul. I knew this voice. A voice that voice aided me in writing the steps to wake my Golden King from a fae sleep. A feat I couldn’t do alone.

Like a fool willingly walking toward slaughter, I took a step closer. “Whisper?”

“Do you know what it’s like?” he asked again, low and distant, like he hadn’t meant to speak.

This couldn’t be a dream. It was too tangible. Even his scent was real, a tantalizing combination of woodsmoke and mist.

In my cell at Castle Ravenspire, I’d always pretended the voice of the whispers in the dark belonged to another being, someone who might understand the burden of using seidr. A friend in the madness.

But I’d long ago convinced myself the words were mine alone; the way I’d convinced myself the spectral in Ari’s dream hadn’t existed, not really.

Until now.


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