Authors: Karpov Kinrade
Copyright © 2016 Karpov Kinrade
Cover Art Copyright © 2016 Karpov Kinrade
Published by Daring Books
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.
Dedicated to Ed, Carol, and Steve
Salt (of) the earth
Not all battles can be won with swords
Some are won with words
TABLE OF CONTENTS
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
"Our father, King Lucian. He could be… difficult, at times, but he was always fair."
Lesson number one
in making a deal with the devil… never trust the devil. Asher charmed me. He made me believe his lies. And now he stands here before me, with his infuriating smirk and a mouth full of deceit, expecting me to trust him. Again.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice. Just, no.
"Ari, please allow me to explain," he says, his words like soft caresses.
I am not swayed. "I can't believe anything you say, so why should I listen?" I cross my arms over my chest, hiding the fresh blood from the wrist wound I reopened against the stone edge of the table. I try to keep from trembling, and I try to hide the demon mark I drew in blood on the wall behind me. Fen is summoned. He will come. Now, I can only hope I live long enough to see him. I sneeze, and groan with the realization that being stuck in a frozen cave with a sick vampire gave me the flu. My head is heavy and my skin is hot. Still, I must keep my wits about me.
The walls are dark and rough, dimly lit by torches casting blue light, flickering sinister shadows on the cold bare floor. In places, white crystal erupts from the stone, as if threatening to consume the entire room.
Asher steps closer. "I can understand why you distrust me, but I promise, it's not what you think."
His father, King Lucian, who was supposed to be dead, sits quietly, drinking from a silver goblet. Grey lines streak his black hair. A red cape falls from his shoulders. Black armor clads his body. The king studies me like men study horses, his dark blue eyes cold and calculating. His lips betray no emotion. He lets his son do all the talking.
"So you didn't lie to your brothers?" I ask. "Didn't hide the fact the king still lives, or let Fen investigate a murder that never happened? You didn't conspire to kidnap me and bring me here?" There's a tone to my voice my mother would have called snarky. And it's the thought of her that sends chills up my back. "What will happen to my mother?" I yell loudly, harshly, as spit flies from my mouth. I can no longer fulfill my bargain of spending time with each prince. I can no longer choose one to marry.
Asher doesn't respond.
I ask again, slower, my eyes drilling into his. "What. Happens. To. My. Mother?"
He holds up his hand and takes a step toward me. He has his father's blue eyes, his black hair. "She will be safe. I give you my word."
I laugh. "As if your word means anything right now."
"How could you do this?" I hiss at him. "Fen trusted you above all. And you betrayed him. You betrayed
Asher sighs. His hand falls to his side. The playfulness is gone from his face, replaced by something darker. "Things aren't always black and white. Not in your world, and certainly not in mine. My brothers want war. They want to enslave the Fae.
people. Is that what you want?"
I pause, struck by his words. I haven't even had time to consider the implications of what they've told me. I'm Fae? How?
Asher takes another step forward, and I adjust, keeping my body between him and the demon mark. I need to—
"Move out of the way, girl," Lucian says.
I don't obey.
The king stands. When he walks toward me, I can almost feel the room shake from his heavy iron boots. He draws a sword from his side, giant and grey. A horned skull of some beast makes the guard of the blade, and foreign symbols engrave the steel. The king lifts the sword one-handed and points it at my neck. It must be three times the size of Spero. How can this man lift it? And then I remember… this is no man. This is the monster who drove the Fae from their world and enslaved their race. This is the monster who claimed my mother's soul.
"Move," the king commands.
I shuffle to the side, and the sword presses against my throat, drawing a speck of blood.
Asher's eyes land on the mark. He looks to me, sadness on his face. He says nothing.
For the first time, Lucian's lips show emotion, curling into a grimace. "You summoned the Prince of War? Do you have any idea what he would do to this kingdom, these people, if he finds a way here?"
I don't respond. He will have no pity from me.
"Asher, take this…
… to her quarters. Until she knows the truth, she must be kept under guard."
I ball my fists, my knuckles turning white. "You will not keep me here. You—
He whips his blade forward. The blunt side hits my ribs, throwing me back. I crash into the wall, the air leaving my lungs in a rush.
"You are a dog," Lucian spits. "A dog. And you will know your place at your master's heel." He turns away, whispers something to Asher, and leaves.
The Prince of Pride reaches for me.
I pull back, cradling my sore ribs, rolling up into a ball. Tears sting my eyes from the pain.
"I am sorry, Arianna."
I spit at him.
He doesn't recoil. He doesn't even seem shocked. "Madrid and Durk will take you to your room. They will take care of you." He walks out, following his father.
The woman and one of the men—the short one—who helped kidnap me approach. Durk throws a bag over my head and ties it at the throat, making it hard to breathe. Madrid secures my wrists behind my back. They push me forward, and I nearly trip over my own feet as they roughly guide me through a door and down corridors I can't see.
I hear yelling. Asher. "I can handle the Princess."
Lucian. "You have grown too soft. Too fond of the girl."
"I have grown compassionate. Isn't that why we fight?"
"We fight for many reasons. We need the Midnight Star, but we must stay in command. We must—"
I am thrown into a room. The door locks behind me. Madrid loosens her iron grip and leans in to speak quietly in my ear. "I apologize for this treatment, Your Grace. Soon, all shall be revealed, and you will understand how important you are to your people."
"My parents were human," I say through the bag. "I'm human. You have the wrong girl."
Durk laughs, but it's Madrid who speaks. "You are half human, which is a problem for some. For those who believe the throne should only be inhabited by the purest of our kind. But your blood is the most powerful, that of the High Fae, that of the royal line. You are heir to our lands, heir to Avakiri. And everyone shall soon see that your human half has not corrupted what you are. You will wake the ancient powers of our kind and bring balance back to the Four Tribes. And then we will free our people and rule our world once again."
Her words are heavy with the promise of war, of bloodshed, of death. And I know whose death she calls for. The vampires. The demons. Maybe even the Shade. Anyone who shares the blood of their oppressors.
My friends. The people I have grown to love.
My mind pulls back to her other words. "Half human?" I know my mother is human. Isn't she? But then, I thought I was human too. What of my father?
Click. Another door unlocks, and I'm escorted through it. Madrid gently sits me down into a chair. She pulls the bag off my head, and I blink a few times to acclimate my eyes to light again. How could this be? This is no dungeon. No medieval torture chamber. I'm in a spacious bedroom suite complete with a blazing fire and plush four-poster bed. I sit at a small table with two chairs, and I study the light oak bookshelf, desk, dresser, armoire, and door, which presumably leads to a bathroom. The king treats me like a slave, and yet I am given the rooms of a princess.
My hands are still tied together. I check the window. Bars over it from the outside. So, it is a cage, a gilded one, but a cage nonetheless.
Undoubtedly, the door to my room will be locked from without.
Madrid leans over to untie my hands. White furs cover her body, and brown leather covers her legs. A red cord is tied around her waist.
Durk grumbles. A brown bear pelt spills over his shoulder. "Should keep her locked up. No telling what she'll do."
Madrid clucks at him. "She's already done the worst, summoning the Prince of War. She doesn't have her powers yet. She's harmless. And we need her to cooperate."
"We only need her blood to cooperate," he says.
Madrid ignores him and takes the chair opposite me, forcing Durk to remain standing. Her white hair is long, nearly touching the floor, flowing down her back in several braids. "Haven't you figured it out yet?" she asks.
I shake my head, because though pieces are clicking together, the picture they make is too confusing for my pounding head to make sense of.
"Your father was High Fae. He was in line to be king. This was thousands of years ago, of course. Back when there were any royalty of our kind left. Back before the princes and their demon spawn destroyed everything, killing into near extinction our very race, wiping out the royal line entirely."