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The Ever King: Chapter 9

The Songbird

Ten paces more and the hells shattered through our peace. The flames at our backs reached for the velvet night. The glow cast its cruel, crimson dance across the courtyard. From the shadows, dozens and dozens of ghostly figures stepped into the light.

Sea fae charged into the fort.

Horns blasted from the watch towers, and Rave warriors spilled out to meet them. Tears burned behind my eyes. I refused to let them fall. I needed to stay alert, stay clear, and snatch my chance to break Bloodsinger’s fingers, take an eye, snap his wrist, at the soonest possible moment.

I winced when screams from within the great hall took me from behind. Nearly everyone I loved was in there.

Bloodsinger heaved me forward at the edge of the tower roof. His strong arm curled around my waist. “Hold tight, love.”

Without warning, he spilled us over the edge. My scream was muffled beneath the squall of shattered glass, the roar of casks bursting into flames. The ground struck, too soft, too scratchy. Bloodsinger had landed us into the back of a feed wagon that hadn’t been there earlier. I choked on straw and stale oats, and had little time to catch my breath before the cart lurched forward.

A woman’s holler of utter delight rose from the driver’s bench. Hooded, she clapped reins against an old, frail mule. The beast protested, but quickened its pace.

“Damn creature! You be on land, so run!”

The cart bumbled through the courtyard. I tried to reach for the rail, ready to toss myself over it, but I was ripped back.

Bloodsinger gripped my ankle. “No foolish ideas, Songbird.”

“No,” I snapped. “Only wise ones.”

With a grunt, I hiked up one knee, and slammed it into the side of his leg with every piece of might I could muster at this angle.

Godsdammit.” He gripped his leg, jaw taut in pain, but righted swiftly. The red in his eyes flashed with violence. Bloodsinger scrambled over the straw, knowing what I planned before I’d even made a move to do it.

He was swift, but not swift enough.

I staggered to the rail of the cart, closed my eyes, and leapt off the edge. Sloppy and unskilled, all I could do was pray my head didn’t catch beneath the wheels. I landed on the cobbled courtyard, facedown, my bound wrists jabbed against my heart.

Move. Move. I scrambled to my feet, sprinting ahead without a look over my shoulder. Chaos had overtaken the fort. Banquet tables were overturned. Flames licked along the walls of the tower. Ladies stumbled amidst their full gowns. The glitter of masks sparkled like golden starlight in the hedges.

The crew of Bloodsinger was everywhere. Like locusts over crops, their blades sliced at our Rave. Hells, I needed a weapon. I was no warrior, but I could bleeding well hold my own. My thoughts turned to Rorik and the other littles. No mistake, they were guarded, but if the Rave were pulled out here to fight, the young ones needed to be led to safety.

I ducked my head and sprinted along the edges of the yard. As I ran, my gaze scanned faces, desperate to find Alek, Mira, or the twins. They had to be safe. I couldn’t accept anything less.

The longhouse gates where Rorik and his playmates had feasted and played all evening were twenty paces away, untouched by flames, but I saw no Rave. No sign of anyone. Blood throbbed in my head; I hastened every step, ignoring the aches of muscles and joints.

“Rori—”

My voice tangled into a scream when two sturdy arms wrapped around my waist. I kicked and flung my bound hands around until a palm slapped over my mouth, and the jab of a knife met my ribs.

“Hush. There will be a place for you to scream later.” His voice was death. Dark, cold, unfeeling. Bloodsinger drew a bit of blood from the pressure of his knife, barely splitting the skin, but if I kept thrashing, no mistake, my heart would meet the point.

His breaths grew rough, almost haggard, as he dragged us between the wall of the fort and a stone smokehouse. Woodsy smells coated the sweat on my brow, the blood on his hands.

One arm wrapped possessively around my waist, Bloodsinger kept my body tight to his chest, his hand over my mouth and nose.

“Foolish games bring dangerous rewards,” he hissed near my ear. “Remember that.”

I stomped my foot on his toe, maneuvered out of his hold, and reached for the blade in his hand. Bloodsinger’s face twisted in anger when I grabbed the hilt. With my hands bound, I was no match for him, and with a severe twist he yanked the knife away.

His palm surrounded my throat, squeezing. Not enough to cut off air, but enough to threaten. “Listen to me, love. The sooner you follow my order, the sooner we leave your folk in our wake. Less lives lost. Your choice.”

Each word crept from behind and throttled me. I go. The others live.

How was it even a choice when, if Bloodsinger spoke true, they were under attack because of me?

I didn’t trust the man, but he shared the same mark as me. He appeared not a full day after I touched the bleeding Chasm. This was my fault, and my fault alone. I’d take my fate if it meant my people were safe.

I opened my mouth to agree to his twisted terms, but was interrupted by a voice that cracked my heart.

“Livie!” Rorik’s cry was strong, but beneath the bravado was a quiver of fear. “You let go of my sister.”

Bloodsinger shifted forcefully, causing me to fall back onto my hip. My head whipped around, eyes wide. “No! Rorik, run!”

My brave, stupid brother bit his bottom lip. His skinny arms lifted an axe he must’ve found in the game yard. Too heavy for him to properly swing, he gritted his teeth and lifted it against Bloodsinger.

The sea king tilted his head. “Little one looks just like him.”

His hand choked the hilt of his dagger. The moment it flinched, I bolted to my feet.

“No!” I shoved myself between them, holding out my tethered hands like a supplicant. “Don’t touch him. Please.”

He held my gaze, a wild, manic fire in the strange red of his eyes, then he looked over me at Rorik, the boy still desperately trying to steady his axe.

I whimpered when Bloodsinger gripped the back of my neck and pulled me close. “Keep up, love, or I change my mind and scatter his bones.”

The hilt of his dagger struck Rorik in the head. I screamed, and Bloodsinger caught me around the waist, hand over my mouth. Rorik crumbled to the ground, still as death but for the soft rise and fall of his chest.

“Move.” Bloodsinger gripped my wrists and led us into the storm.

Our pace was rapid, even with the painful lag of his leg. He was limping. In truth, I hadn’t realized I’d kicked him so hard, but it gave me a single glimmer of light to cling to as he ripped me from my world. My folk.

We wove through battles and blades. Thoughts burned to a murky fog in my mind and tears skimmed along my lashes but never fell. Stun gathered like a shield over my body, guarding me away from the screams, the blood, the sharp slice of steel over steel.

A decade of peace had spun into a massacre in a single night.

I drew in shaky breaths, never entirely filling my lungs, and stumbled behind the sea king. Afraid to fight, afraid Bloodsinger would make good on his threat regarding Rorik.

“Livia!” Aleksi’s voice rose over the battle. “He has the Night Folk princess. Go, move, move!”

A wet sob caught somewhere between my throat and my nose. I tried not to look, but one slight glance over my shoulder gave up Aleksi’s frantic expression. My cousin and half a dozen Rave battled their way through the crowd, shouting my name.

Jonas and Sander were there, eyes black with their haunting magic, and both desperately fighting beside Alek. Both held blacksteel blades and sliced through gambesons and chests as they battled like one mind.

“Livie!” Mira shrieked.

She was near the edge of the fort, surrounded by guards from her realms, and kept slicing a dagger, trying to break free of them. They wouldn’t sacrifice their princess, and caged her behind their round, wooden shields.

A cloud of inky shadows coated their faces, but it faded swiftly when a guard took hold of Mira’s wrists. As a powerful illusionist fae, no mistake, she was trying to break free with her magic.

Livia,” she sobbed when the guard gave up and simply wrapped his arms around his princess’s waist, dragging her clear of the fighting.

Bloodsinger watched it all, a vicious sort of grin on his face, as though we’d done exactly what he’d wanted all along.

Waves crashed against the edge of the gates. This far across the courtyard meant we’d reached the rocky foundation where angry seas thrashed against white, pebbled stones at the base of the fort. My stomach lurched. A few tall gates and a cruel drop was all that was left between me and a watery grave.

“Look how many shall miss you, love.” Bloodsinger laughed. “It’s almost touching.”

Erik, stop this.”

For the first time, the sea king went still. One hand gripped my throat. He spun me in front of him, using me as a shield.

On a staircase that led to one of the watchtowers on the gates, Stieg, blade out, looked nowhere but the Ever King. “Let her go, boy.”

“Warrior.” Bloodsinger gritted the word out, as though it burned his tongue. “You look old.”

What the hells?

“And you look lost.” When Stieg stepped forward, Erik stepped back.

“You have a chance here, love,” he whispered. “Do I call off my crew, or shall we have a bit more fun?”

I lifted my chin. “Stieg, stand down.”

“Can’t do that, Princess.”

“They take me, they leave,” I said, a croak in my voice. “Ror is near the smokehouse and—”

“I’m not letting you go.” Stieg’s jaw pulsed. “Erik, think hard about what you’re doing.”

Against my back, Bloodsinger’s chest hummed with another laugh. “For turns I’ve had nothing else to think about, warrior.”

“You’re starting new wars.”

“No. I’m finally ending them.” The hand he kept around my neck, he lifted to his mouth. With a quick bite, he drew a drop of blood on his finger.

“Erik, don’t!” Stieg shouted with a new frenzy.

Bloodsinger painted my bottom lip with his own blood, then licked off the rest. “Best not to taste those beautiful lips, Songbird,” he whispered. “Warrior, if you want to risk her neck, keep walking. If you want her to live to see another sunrise, then step back.”

A wash of defeat painted Stieg’s face. I didn’t understand the connection between my father’s captain and the Ever King, but his resignation at the sight of his blood brought truth to rumors. Erik Bloodsinger was made of poison.

Lost in the pause, I hadn’t realized how near the cliff the sea king had guided us.

“Say goodbye, love.” He didn’t give me a chance before he waved his hand, and from the cove below us the water swirled, and we fell backward into the sea.


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