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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 6

THE SERPENT

“Get up, Bloodsinger.” A Rave warrior used the toe of his boot to nudge my hip from where I’d stumbled out of the great hall, landing on my back on the floor.

Fire blazed through my veins. Fists clenched at my sides, I let out a roar of pain. Not from my leg, not from the scars, not from the kicks and strikes of the earth fae. It was the cry of a shattered heart.

The last time had been the day my mother died. My boyish soul felt as though it might never piece itself back together again when the light faded from her eyes.

This was worse.

A suffocating torment wrapped around my heart, my bones, my very soul. I knew her folk would hate me, they’d want me dead, but I thought—gods—I thought with Alek, with my surrender, they would take to the tides immediately.

I’d done this. Rejected every offer of peace, threatened all my life to return and ruin them, and then I did. I stole their hearts away beneath the sea. I created too great a divide so they could not even unite with me when it mattered most.

I failed her, but I wouldn’t again. Not for another moment.

“I said get up.”

The moment the guard gripped my tunic, I snapped into sitting and curled a fist around his throat, choking off his air.

“Erik!” Tait’s voice was a warning. The guards who had him were coming for me.

They’d be too late.

The warrior in my grasp grappled for my hand, trying to break my crushing hold on his throat. His eyes were wide, face flushed; my grip tightened.

I snatched a small carving knife sheathed to his hip and slashed the flesh over the top of my wrist. The warrior made a grunting sound at the sight of my blood spilling over my skin onto the stones. Some drops landed on the warrior’s fatigues.

Teeth bared, I leveraged back to standing, and spun the guard in front of me, the same way I’d done to Livia the night I took her. With the bloodied tip of the knife aimed at my new captive’s face, his fellow warriors halted five paces away, hands out in a show of tense peace.

“Bloodsinger,” said the warrior nearest to us. “What is your plan? You are surrounded here.”

“My plan?” Darkness robbed any hint of compliance, of compromise, from my tone. “My plan is to take to the sea. My blood can kill the lot of you in moments. Release me and my cousin, and we will go. No lives lost.”

“You attacked us, Bloodsinger. You took a royal. You know we cannot let you walk away.”

She took me.” My voice rattled against the sconces, the doors. Each passing breath robbed me of my sanity a little more. I did not care if I descended to the depths of the hells, I did not care if it made my soul black in the process. “She owns me. I will not go into a cell to wait. I’ll die first, then I shall still search for her from the Otherworld.”

“Put the blade down.” Steig stepped from the great hall and glared at me. “Don’t take the wrong steps here, Erik. Not again.”

“I will do every wrong and wicked thing if it brings her back.”

I flipped the knife, so the blade pointed back at me, and with a few clever moves of my fingers, had the sharp edges gripped in my palm. I squeezed until bubbles of my blood fountained through my clenched fingers.

The guard in my hold let out a rough breath when more of my blood dribbled down his chest.

“Keep steady, Frey,” Stieg told the man in my grasp.

I was no longer listening. With a quick motion, I flipped the knife to grab the hilt and leveled the blade at the guard’s throat. Blood fell onto his skin from my slashed fingers. He winced, straining to keep a distance from the poison, but I only tightened my arm around his upper body, keeping him close.

Tait struggled against his guard. One boot slammed into the warrior’s knees. The man cried out, yet managed to keep a hold on my cousin’s arm until a second guard came to aid him.

“Go,” Tait snapped, teeth bared. “You leave me, Erik, and go to the tides.”

Dammit. After all he’d done, the last thing I wanted to do was leave Tait in the hands of the earth fae, but . . . I would. I would not hesitate. If the choice was to escape to the ship, to find Livia, but leave Tait as a captive—he would need to wait his ass in a cell until we could return with my queen at my damn side.

If Livia’s folk would spend days plotting how to slip through the Chasm, if they would not put aside my sins and their hatred to save her, then I would go at it alone.

I’d already wasted enough time in a futile attempt to join forces.

The guard in my bloody grasp panted and coughed as I scuffled us toward one of the windows, him as my shield.

My head spun with the impossibility of the escape, but the need to reach the sea blotted out any reason.

“Erik, there is no way out,” Stieg insisted. “Don’t run again. We will help.”

“You are not helping!” I shouted.

My voice drew the doors to the hall open. In the doorway, the Night Folk king was joined by more half-familiar faces I thought I might’ve seen on a battlefield as a boy.

“I will kill you if you spill another drop of our blood,” Valen said without unclenching his teeth.

Kill me,” I roared back. I shoved the guard away from me once I reached the window. “If I do not find her, I’ll offer my throat for you to slit.” With the hilt of the bloodied knife, I shattered the glass at my back. “What do you not understand? I care nothing for my life if she is not in it.”

The ground shifted and rolled much like stone had turned to a stormy sea. I stumbled and used the wall to brace.

“No! Godsdammit!” Behind me, in the broken window, a thick, root-ridden mound erupted from the soil and blocked my foolhardy escape.

Valen glared at me from where he crouched on the floor, hand splayed over the stone tiles.

“A bit of soil is not enough to stop me, Earth Bender.” I opened my palms at my sides.

The way I’d pulled water into the lungs of the assassin in the garden, I summoned the same of the flesh from the guards. It was a silent song, a gods-gift my father exploited. An ability to speak to blood and water inside a body with my voice was a weapon in his heir he’d planned to use against any who stood at odds with the king.

The pull was weaker here in the earth realms than back home, but soon enough, warriors in the corridor coughed. A few grabbed at their throats, water trickling from the corners of their mouths.

Valen watched in a wild stun as his men stumbled to their knees, drowning on the sudden fluid in their bodies.

Moments. Mere breaths. That was all the time I had to find a new window, slip over jagged glass in the window frame, pray I didn’t shatter my leg a second time on the impact of my fall, then manage to outrun earth fae arrows and spears until I reached the sea.

With a limp.

With no weapon but a simple knife.

Holes punctured every step of my feckless plan, but my thoughts were too lost in a panicked need to act. I stepped over them.

Halfway down the new corridor, a fierce biting heat split through my chest. “Dammit.”

I groaned and doubled over.

“Erik!” Tait shouted.

I hardly heard anything around me. The agony was bone deep, as though someone had cracked through my ribs, peeled out the marrow, then replaced it with molten ore. I could not draw a deep enough breath. Dark spots clouded my sight. My knees struck the stone floor.

Somewhere in the haze, strong hands took hold of my arms.

“Blood’s spilling out of his chest!”

“Warrior,” my voice cracked.

“Erik.” Stieg, blurred and distant, looked down at me. “What happened?”

I coughed, tasting the heat of blood on my tongue. Some unseen force was splitting my body apart. One palm covered my chest, desperate to keep my heart in place.

“Did you strike him?”

Hells, that sounded like the earth bender. I didn’t care. Something like a festering disease was cracking my ribs. When I pulled my hand back, fresh blood coated my fingertips.

Through the laces of my tunic, a jagged gash carved through my flesh. I watched in a bit of horror. Tinged in the crimson was a flicker of gold, like a spark of sunlight.

“Don’t touch him.” Tait’s voice broke through the fog. Possible the earth fae were too stunned to hold to him, but soon my cousin’s face was blinking over me. “What did you do to him?”

“I did nothing.” Stieg leaned over me. “How is he bleeding?”

“Touch his blood if you wish to die, warrior,” Tait snapped, then pointed his attention to the flow of gore down my chest. “Erik, this blood is not normal. This is a curse, some kind of spell.”

A spell. An emptiness. Something inside me was missing.

Like a blade to the heart, the truth struck without mercy.

No, gods no.

The pull, the draw, the slightest hint of comfort knowing somewhere across the seas and skies her beauty existed, wasn’t there.

“It’s gone.” My head slumped back to the floor. I stared mindlessly at the rafters overhead. “Livia . . . our heartbond. It’s gone.”


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