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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 46

THE SONGBIRD

I slipped between two evergreens. A thorn snapped off into my upper arm. A curse hissed over my tongue, but I kept on, tightening my hold on the white iron dagger. Salt and blossoms spun like bursts of wind around me.

Close.

A shudder rolled through the soil. My father was clever with his fury. Startling and terrorizing in waves before he revealed the depth of what he had planned. Each burst was a nudge to keep going, to meet my fight head on. The others would do the same.

With care, I leveraged over a fallen log, keeping my steps cautious when the path took a severe slant. Light flickered in the trees, and my steps softened. With care not to snap a single twig, I tugged a branch out of sight.

Fione knelt in a natural clearing, fumbling with the cork of a vial she’d yanked from her pouch. Whatever spell cast she had planned, it ended before it began.

Heat gathered in my palms. The trees shuddered at our backs. Fione reeled around, a knife held straight out from her chest. “Keep back, earth fae. I’ll drop it and choke the air from your lungs in your next breath.”

Dark spells, cruel magic, it was all that made Fione.

“I don’t think so.” One swipe of my hand, and the draw of my fury had branches, limbs, and vines curled around Fione’s wrist, snatching the vial from her fingers.

Her eyes widened.

“Why the look of stun?” I tilted my head. “You always address me as earth fae.” My fingers pressed to my lip. “By the gods, did you not think us at all skilled? You are so confident in your twisted spells, Fione. Did you not think I would be the same with the fury of the earth?”

Fione yanked her wrist away, snapping the branch, and scrambled on her backside to the edge of the clearing. “You won’t win this.”

“Is that right?” I stepped into the clearing. “It seems like I am doing just that.”

Fione lunged toward me. Her fingers curled around the blade of my dagger. Blood soaked between her knuckles. She shrieked, holding my weapon while slicing hers.

Something tightened in my chest. Something cruel and savage. I reeled back, gliding my dagger out of Fione’s palms like it had been a fleshy sheath around the blade. The sea witch, at last, took note of her reckless grip and shrieked her pain when the blade sliced open her palm.

“I told you once, I come from a place where women do not tear each other down for power,” I said, aiming the point of my blade down. “They stand shoulder to shoulder; they carry one another. But I think for you, Fione, I will make an exception.”

“Bold words, earth fae. Prove them.”

Roots sprung from the forest floor in the same moment Fione summoned a strange spell. Murky water bubbled from the soil and hardened into ice sharp as blades. Fione flicked her fingers, and the icy bolts flung toward my chest.

I raised my arm in front of my face. Gnarled wooded fingers sprang from the soil, barbs and brambles, and swung over Fione’s ice like a bulbous club, shattering them to pieces.

Fione’s currant red lips pinched. Glass shattered, and one of her vials burst in ashen smoke over a fallen branch. She lifted the tree limb, peeled back large flakes of bark, and revealed a fine short blade fashioned by her spell.

Etched in grains like the tree limb, the cursed blade was narrow and lithe, handcrafted for Fione’s slender palms.

“This won’t end in your favor, Fione.” Dammit. The tremble was clear in my voice. I adjusted the white iron dagger in my grip.

“You almost sound like you believe that, earth fae.” Fione gripped her ensorcelled blade, eyes flashing with hatred, then lunged forward.

No hesitation, no second thoughts. The rest of the shore fell away. Swords, cries, the sound of steel slicing through leathers and flesh. I could not pause to fret over my father or Alek. Mira, Jonas, Sander, I could not wonder if they’d found Skadi or flattened Arion’s forces.

Breathe. Focus. Those words had never settled clearer in my mind. This was my fight. This was my moment to secure peace for me and Erik. Others had their roles, their moments. Nothing would peel me away from mine.

With a strangled cry, I landed a blow against the edge of Fione’s sword. A quick strike, one that tossed us apart nearly as fast. We circled each other. The vibration of the steel from her heavier, larger weapon prickled up my arms. Fione’s eyes flashed like a storm over the sea.

We said nothing. No pleas. No jests. There was nothing to say. The sea witch and the Ever Queen were here to kill each other.

I rushed at her again. She met my strike with a ferocity I didn’t anticipate. In the short time I’d come to know the sea witch, Fione seemed like a lady who balked at sword play, who reveled in fine teas and lush gowns.

When her sword landed a cut to my arm, I swore and reeled backward.

“Stop this, earth fae,” she said. “Look around. You fight against old magics and old revenge. It will end in blood for your people.”

Through the trees, still on the shore, were the sounds of battle cries, of slicing blades. Sea witches, sirens, my people, battled the blades and elven pyre of Larsson’s kin. Perhaps it hadn’t been enough. Perhaps this fight was futile.

Or perhaps not.

My shoulders rose in sharp breaths. “I am Livia Ferus!”

I swung my dagger, catching Fione off guard, and landing a sharp strike to the edge of her sword. The sea witch backpedaled.

“Daughter of warriors!” Another downward blow. Fione cursed me and made a wild strike for my middle. “Heir of the Night Folk fae!”

“Enough.” Fione made a quick jab at my leg. I kicked at her knee.

Back and forth we pushed. Sloppy strokes, desperate blows, we fought with a finality, a knowledge that this moment would change the course of this land forever.

“Heartbond of the Ever King!”

Fione slammed her sword against my blade and promptly drew a fist against my jaw. I fumbled forward. The tang of blood grew hot on my tongue.

Do not fall. Breathe. Focus.

Erik’s face flashed through my mind. So far, so near. I could taste the air, taste his flavor—woodsmoke, leather, heat.

I wiped a sleeve over my lips. Blood soaked the fabric. Five paces away, Fione gasped, hunched over her knees, a bit of horrid stun in her pale eyes. Erik would want blood. He’d demand bones to drape over my body as a shrine to what became of our enemies, but not this one.

This fight was mine to finish.

“I am Livia Ferus,” I said, voice rough as a blade over stone. “I am the Ever Queen. And you, Fione, are no longer welcome in my kingdom.”

I lifted the elven dagger. Never had I desired death, blood, pain, so fiercely. In the next breath, Fione lunged. Our blades met. The sea witch screamed as she tried to hack at my neck. I parried and shoved her back.

Another blow came to my lower spine. I dodged. She met my strike over her head. Each clash, each blow lost power but gained hatred.

Fione made a sloppy cut at my heart, but weak steps fumbled over the uneven soil.

Now. A voice, be it from the sand or sea or wood, I didn’t know, but it bloomed through my mind.

I dropped to my knees, palms splayed over the earth, and cried as fury burst through my pores. The ground heaved as vines, branches, as weeds from the sea, coiled like chains around Fione’s ankles, trapping her in place.

The sea witch screamed in fright. She spluttered a few incantations, drawing out sparks that tried to ignite the limbs tethering her in place. I clambered over a thick root, racing over the surface, blade gripped tightly.

Fione writhed, desperate to break out. She hissed more spells, blackened more roots and vines. A scorch of hot air burrowed in my lungs. I let out a wretched cry and leveled the tip of my dagger against her, carving out the base of her throat.

It was horrifying, witnessing the edge of the elven dagger slice through skin, yet not draw blood. Golden scars veined over her flesh, flowing down her throat, her collar, into her chest.

She cried out, clawing at her breasts and skin until Fione’s pale eyes flickered in stun, remorse, hatred. Until light faded. Neck split open. Fione’s features froze, ever furrowed in a wince as if she might shed a tear, but nothing came from a lifeless gaze locked on the dark sky.

She was gone, rotted from the heart out.

Weak steps took me away from the unmoving form of the sea witch.

Respite lasted for a few moments. Wind bellowed through the trees, slamming against the elven palace. Boards and slats peeled away against the tumult. I spun around when cries of stun rose from the shore down the slope.

By the gods—elven guards doubled over. It looked as though they were retching.

I clung to my bloodied dagger. Panic, harsh and sharp, stacked in my belly. I needed to find my family. As if he’d absorbed my thoughts, Aleksi peeled through the trees.

“Livia!” Blood dripped down his nose, but his arms curled around me. “Gods, I lost sight of you.”

“What’s happening?”

He pulled away and faced the shore. “I don’t know. Their folk started spewing blood. Something shifted here, changed—” Aleksi’s gaze landed on a dead Fione. “Recent kill?”

“Only just.”

“Coincidence her death brought about spewing elven?” We locked eyes and shook our heads, speaking as one, “Doubtful.”

“She’s dead,” I said, a curl to my lip. “Now, at long last, Larsson can fall to the hells.”

Natthaven needed to be taken, Fione needed to die, or the wretched magic protecting Larsson Bonekeeper would never allow him to fall under Erik’s blade.

“Where’s my daj?” I asked.

“Sending his message that the killer of Thorvald stands with Erik Bloodsinger.” Alek’s grin was cruel, almost vicious. He pointed through a gap in the trees.

The sea was chaos. Tides thrashed and spun around sails of crimson, black, and blue, but from the water grew formidable peaks of dark sea floor. Teeth of rock dug between the ships, caging the elven vessel, trapping Larsson.

Now was the time Valen Ferus revealed how he became the king of the Night Folk fae.

Tears burned behind my eyes. Erik, we’re coming.

Gods, I prayed he had Larsson’s head, prayed Sewell, Celine, Stieg, the lot of them were cheering at the sight of those cliffs. He would die there. I’d take nothing less.

“Come on,” Alek urged me forward. “Mira sent up a signal. They need us!”


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