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The Ever King: Chapter 10

The Serpent

The sea had been a prison at dawn. Now, moonlight revealed the truth of its beauty at long last. Its freedom.

For another fae, the fall might’ve shattered them on the rocks. For the Ever King, the sea rose to greet us.

My little songbird fought hard not to scream, but before the biting cold of the white foam took us, a shrill cry scraped from her throat. No doubt unwanted, she nuzzled closer, hiding her face against my neck.

A brief touch, but the sensitive flesh of the scars across my throat ached. I wasn’t so certain it was a bad ache. As though the pain wanted to drag her in, seal her up, and leave her there to sweeten the rot left behind.

I sank into the tide. Eyes closed, the strength, the power, the rage of the sea brought the frantic beat of my pulse to a calm. Then, the princess’s damn heel struck me in the leg again.

She thrashed and kicked for the surface. Hands tied, it’d be slow going, and she was locked in a dead man’s panic, the last frantic rush to cling to life. Sea fae grew sickly on land without submerging in water, but it wasn’t as though I would die. Would I be miserable should I be left to dry in the sun for the rest of my days? Without a doubt.

To draw earth fae into the sea was much the same if left to the depths. The fae of the land were not like mortals who could not hold air in their pathetic lungs for longer than a few counts. In the Ever Kingdom, they thrived within our realm better than sea folk could live in theirs. Many of the Ever Folk were descendants of kinder times between land and sea.

To travel the Chasm without the aid of a sea fae was another matter.

Earth fae might survive, drowning wasn’t the worry, it was the violence they could not tame. The connection to the currents did not thrive in their blood, and the tides would do their best to shred them to pieces should they enter unaccompanied.

Right here, the princess had little reason to fear the tides, but she was gulping the sea in a frenzy.

This wouldn’t do, and I had little patience nor the time to wait for her to realize the Otherworld was not beckoning her forward.

She’d hate me, maybe bite me—gods, I hoped so—for what had to be done.

I gripped a hand around one of her ankles and pulled her back to me. She gulped, released too much air, and stared at me with a hint of betrayal. Dreary thoughts must’ve been rummaging through her beautiful head. Would I choke her? Run her through?

I didn’t have plans for all that. Yet. There was suffering to be had first.

Instead, I kissed her.

Once the stun of my mouth on hers faded, the princess kicked at me. As expected, she turned her fight against the pressure of the sea onto me. Those claws tried to dig at my face.

I pulled away only to grip her jaw. “You want to breathe, Songbird? Or shall I let the Chasm crush those lungs? Slowly.”

Her eyes widened. To me, my voice beneath the waves was a low boom. What did it sound like to her?

I sneered and dragged my nose alongside her cheek. “I’ll give you breath, but only if you behave.”

Lore existed about the kiss of sea singers, one that gave endless breath to a land walker they loved more than the sea. No need to let on it wasn’t true. She needed to believe some mystical spell from my mouth halted her panic, which in turn would make hauling her around simpler. In the meantime, I got to torment those sweet lips. I got to bring out the hate she buried beneath her cloak of innocence.

The princess was mine to ruin by right and destiny, and I planned to begin now.

My tongue slipped through my teeth and swiped over the salty damp of her mouth. She pinched her lips, face contorted in a bit of disgust. Stubborn little bird. This time there was no easing her into it, nothing gentle. I demanded her mouth, and took it. She tasted like rain on the sea, fresh and wild. As expected, she resisted. Until I released a soft breath over her tongue. With my hands on the small of her back, the shudder rippled beneath my palms.

I offered another breath. She took it greedily.

The magic of transferring breath was myth, but . . . something was happening. A spark in the blood that shot to the rune on my skin. A heat that dug deep into my chest, drawing me closer, keeping me locked in her essence.

What was meant to be a moment of torment, slipped into an obsession for more. More of her taste, more of her softness. More.

I wasn’t alone.

Disgust faded from her features into something darker, almost feral. In another heartbeat, she clung to me like she craved the heat of my hands as much as I craved hers. The princess had her wrists bound, but her fingers curled around my tunic, holding me close. With a graceful slide through the current, she pressed her hips to mine.

Dammit. My body fought to react, to press back until she felt the hardness in my damn trousers building the longer I held her sweet mouth. Lust and need were weaknesses expected of others, but not—bleeding hells—not from the damn sea king.

I cursed and forced myself to pull back. With the connection severed, resentment was quick to return. She tried to pull away. I took hold of the scarf around her wrists and yanked her back.

Frustration, anger at my own weakness, came out in sharp, biting words. “Breathe now. Fight, and I give you to the crew. Comply, and you’ll live to see the other side of the Chasm.”

One hand wrapped around the scarf, I swam to the shadows of the water. When the darkness shifted upon our arrival, Livia gave a little shriek, releasing a cloud of bubbles. Crimson sails rose from the dark depths of the deeper sea. The gaping mouth of the serpent figurehead gleamed under the broken skeins of moonlight. On the hull, the armored door cranked open.

I took us in.

My songbird stopped fighting; she practically went boneless and allowed me to drag her into the stomach of the ship, as though the ember of her fight was snuffed out. Pity.

Inside the hull, the door groaned and snapped as the heavy, ironed chains clanked back into position. Swallowed water drained through the floor and was heaved back into the tides. We sank with it until my feet planted on the floor.

Though, the whole of the ship remained underwater, inside the hull was little more than damp.

The princess, hunched and soaked, spluttered at my feet.

“Get up.” I gripped under her arm. “You’ll miss your chance to wave farewell.”

“What, I—” Words cut off when I strode to a wide staircase.

The ship rocked. Livia slammed into the side wall. On instinct, I slipped an arm around her waist to keep her upright. She drew in a sharp breath when I opened the hatch to the main deck the same moment the ship carved through the surface.

The bow shot through the surf toward the moon, like a whale breaching the waves. I tugged her into my side and gripped the rail until the ship righted over the surface again. She slipped off a stair, forced to cling to me to keep from tumbling belowdecks. I laughed, reveling in her disquiet. The look she returned was wholly worth it—dark and hateful.

“What ways are you thinking of slitting my throat, Songbird?”

“It’d be foolish of me to give up my plans,” she hissed. “I swear to you, it will be a show worth the wait.”

“Such venom.” With one knuckle, I stroked her cheek. “Careful with your threats of my untimely death, love, or you might end up stealing my heart.”

On deck, crewmen tugged on the rigging, some still clambered over the rails on their return from the land. At the sight of me and my songbird, voices rose in a chorus of chants and jeers. Most were aimed at the fae locked in the burning fort, but some were bolder and tossed their taunts at the princess.

Livia kept her eyes schooled on the deck, even on the steps leading to the helm.

Tait gripped the jagged handles, jaw tight, and a narrowed look I could see even buried in the shadows from the brim of his hat. “The mantle?”

I guided Livia in front of me, my palm open on her stomach. “Soon enough, but we now have something to barter.”

Tait kept his frown, but a gleam of the thrill he never showed lit the ribbons of red in his eyes. Behind him, Celine had perched on one of the rails, Larsson beside her, blood splattered across the edge of his jaw.

Celine smacked her lips, licked grease off her sharpened fingernails, then threw the bone of whatever fowl she’d taken from the masque into the sea. “What a lovely haul you’ve brought us, My King.”

Celine snapped her teeth, laughing when Livia flinched.

Larsson tossed a skin of coins between his hands. “The bastards are aiming to set sail behind us.”

Celine took a spyglass from a pouch on her belt and handed it to me. Longships were being loaded. The glow of the burning fort revealed the endless warriors on the docks.

“They seek a chase, let’s give them one.” I folded the spyglass again and took the helm from Tait’s hold.

One hand on the helm, one on my songbird, I faced the crew. “What d’you say, men? Ready to show these bastards what it means to chase the Ever Ship?”

The crew pounded their fists and began the eerie chant.

We work, we rot . . .

I pulled Livia close to my side. “Hang onto me. I’d hate to lose you along the way.”

She scoffed, teeth bared. “I’d rather drown in the depths than touch you.”

“Suit yourself, love.” I released the scarf between her hands and returned to the helm. “Hoist the banner, you bastards! The sea calls.”

Hums and grunts and chants came from the deck as the crew scrambled to their positions. Four bulky men gathered near the main mast and tugged on the black rigs, drawing the frayed banner of the Ever to the top of the sails.

Horns and battle cries echoed in the distance.

I glanced over my shoulder, just enough to witness a few of her people begin the hopeless pursuit. Those oars in their odd longships weren’t a match for the sleek hull of the Ever Ship.

I met Livia’s gaze. “Say goodbye, Songbird.”

With a wave of my hand, a gust of wind caught the sails. They billowed out, and the ship lurched forward.


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