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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 24


A tumult of wind ransacked the wood. I trudged forward, bowing my head, and making my way for my bower until I could find a way to Skadi.

If I could find a way to the princess, she might be able to free us of these wards. She could free herself of whatever arrangement Arion had forced upon her head. There’d been a change in Skadi after she’d used her darkness, but she was the last hope I had left. She was the only one with enough power, it seemed, to shatter mystical barriers.

I didn’t know how to find her in the palace, then escape. Again.

The deep bong of the bells from the palace tower rattled through the soil. Above the frenzy came shouts, commands, pounding footsteps.

There was a tug around my middle, a distinct nudge to turn back to the sea.

No. I needed to aim for the palace. But warmth, bright and almost familiar, burned in my chest, urging me back toward the water.

He is coming. I shuddered at the thought. Not quite my voice, more ice-edged that burrowed into my blood. A chilling sound—a scrape of claws on my skull—but it didn’t bring fear. It was as though something like my fury took hold of me, anxious to guide my steps.

I lifted the tattered hem of the shift, biting through the pain of sharp twigs and briars on the battered soles of my feet.

Branches cracked at my back. It sounded as though an entire army were surrounding me. The elven were formidable, no doubt. They knew their land. I’d no desire to meet them.

“Get me away from them,” I called out to the last embers of fury tingling down the tips of my fingers. I brushed my palm across a twisted elm.

Brambles on the narrow path in the wood thickened, forcing me to turn on a bend, deeper into the shadows of the trees. Hair lifted on my arms, the unsettling notion that unseen eyes were locked on me rattled up my spine in great shudders.

He is coming.

Be it the voice of Natthaven, my fury, or a spectral, I no longer cared. The voice in my mind throttled me in panic.

Larsson was coming.

I hastened my pace until I broke free of the trees. A tang of blood burned in my throat, and my chest felt as though I’d swallowed flames. No, gods, no. I was back in the open. Open to arrows, open to Larsson’s gaze.

A boom shook the glassy pebbles underfoot.

Thick night burst into a fiery sphere. Short-lived, but enough for gold light of a cinder stone to brighten towering squares of crimson sails. Enough to reveal the sheen of a pitch hull carving through the tides.

I stumbled. “Erik.”

For a breath, the tumult in the wood ceased, as if the whole of the isle were stunned into silence at the sight of the Ever Ship.

He was here. Hells, the nudge, the voice, had been leading me to my king, to my serpent, all this time.

Fierce wind snapped and whipped the skirt of the shift around my legs. Then, the crimson sails turned, aiming at the wrong side of the damn isle.

“No! Erik!” I screamed his name, knowing the tides, the wind, the crack of sails on the Ever Ship would swallow the sound of my voice before reaching him. I struggled against the call to succumb to the tether tying me to this land. “Erik!”

I held my breath. A light in the darkness—Nightfire. Erik was my Nightfire searching the seas and skies for his lost love.

I needed to draw him closer with light. Gods, I wished my uncle Tor, a pyre fae, were here. He could spark a flame with the flick of his hand.

Frantic, I looked about. Around the bend of the isle, I could just make out the tip of my failing wooded wall. Most of it still held, though it would not be long before it fell.

Some elven guards had forgone patience and were half walking, half swimming in the tides to get around the edges of the wall. One held a lantern over the surf.

I needed those flames.

Energy was spent, but I knelt on the soil and scooped it into my palms. A little more. Once more. “Light his way to me.”

For a moment, there was nothing. Then a cry of stun broke the night. The elven holding the lantern was ripped from the water. Far enough, I could only make out the smallest shape, but his cries rippled across the beach, distant but there.

Something moved around him. Roots? More branches? I didn’t know, but in the next breath, the flicker of his lantern skirted across the beach, out of the grip of the guard, and hurtled into the wood.

Shouts of confusion followed. Elven sprinted toward the trees, chasing after the stolen flame, likely expecting to find me there.

I spun around, looking to the trees, waiting. My fingers curled, then stretched and splayed, over and again until my pulse grew so frantic it hurt.

Up the slope, near where the wood had stolen the lantern, a spark leapt across the treetops. Golden flames licked up a towering oak in the center of the hill. Then, another leapt to a slender spruce. Another onto an aspen. One by one, flames leapt and danced across branches, leaves, and shrubs.

A slow blaze built. But it was more. The trees were not still. They shifted and bent. Shrubs leaned into a distinct shape. My blood burned, but not what it ought to have been for a feat as this. I’d expected to collapse, to overspend my fury magic until I lost consciousness. I remained standing, fatigued, but ready to move when needed.

I was the Ever Queen. It was as though my fury accepted it, as though it were proving it to the sea and land. As though my fury were fighting as desperately as me to find the Ever King.

I backed away, watching in a bit of awe, as fire licked through the trees, coiling and spiraling into the darkness. A grin split over my face when fearful shouts from my hunters faded beneath the roar of wildfire.

Light in the darkness, leading two lost hearts home.


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