Prologue + Chapter 1
This text is copyrighted by LJ Andrews and Victorious Publishing. It is an unedited excerpt and subject to change.
A quick recap of where we left off:
Livia has been taken from Erik, and out of desperation, Erik returned through the Chasm to the earth fae realms. He was joined by Aleksi and Tait, but the three were ambushed by Prince Jonas and a group of Rave warriors. Aleksi and Tait were snared in a trap, leaving Erik to survive the wrath of Livia’s people . . . hopefully.
His ending wasn’t going to change.
In truth, the boy had always known this was how his story would go—such was the way of landing on the losing side of a war.
Gentle water lapped on the shore at the boy’s back. Warriors stood between him and home. Damp sand dug into the dirty trousers covering his bruised knees, but there was a bit of relief in the chill of the sea that allowed him to breathe again.
Nights spent cramped in the cruel stone walls of the cell were at an end. Now, he’d face his fate.
At his side was another boy, a boy he was meant to hate, but try as the young king might, he could not entirely despise the boy at his side. Another failure he ought to add to the list of ways he had yet to be the king his father would’ve wanted.
The second boy, battered and dirty, was the only one from home who’d remained.
Others fled in their garish ships of bone and soft wood, of black and blue sails. The moment the fighting ended, they faded beneath the violent tides.
The boy king feared the folk on the shore, feared the blades on their belts, the blood beneath their fingernails. But he still held a bit of power—pulses in their jaws, avoidance in their stances, the way they stared at the boy king like he might lash out in the next heartbeat. He feared them, but no mistake, the fae of the earth also feared the king of the sea.
Soon, the second boy was banished by the victors, kings and queens who shifted and winced as they spoke to boys instead of grown, deadly warriors.
As he listened to the punishment leveled against the second sea fae, the young king curled his bruised fingers around his new, small charm. The girl had tried to make it more valuable than it was—silver was a grand term; the small swallow was more like soft tin.
Still, from the moment his little songbird sped away through the tall grass, the young king clung to her parting gift. Hate boiled like the poison in his blood, yet . . . he could not shake his thoughts of the little bird who’d told him grand tales in the darkest night.
One look. One final glance. He could steal one more from the girl before he was locked beneath the waves. Instead, when the boy raised his eyes, he was met with an enemy, warrior strong, dressed all in black.
The dark eyes of a fae king who could bend the bedrock took him in like the night drinking the sun. Perhaps, the boy’s ending would not be banishment. Perhaps, the earth bender king would stain the sand in poisonous blood without a thought.
“You did not challenge me, boy,” said the enemy king.
The challenge. The entire purpose for the sea king’s arrival to earth realms. Like a fool he’d shamed his kingdom. One soft moment of the heart, one healing song, and the boy forfeited his chance to reclaim the power he lost for his father all those turns ago.
“The opportunity was taken by other things,” was all the young king said.
Fear was there, but he wouldn’t show it. Weakness was not meant to live within Ever Kings. So, the boy lifted his chin, waiting for the blow of the same dark, deadly axe that carved his father’s heart.
Unease slithered down his spine when the earth bender lowered to one knee, when he placed himself nose to nose with the boy.
Why would a victorious king descend to the same level as his defeated?
The earth bender king could snap the boy’s neck, yet he spoke the next words in a soft voice, almost kind.
“You could stay here. You’d be welcome amongst our folk and still lead your people if you wanted. There are kings and queens here to guide you.”
Stay? The father of his songbird, an enemy, a man he’d come to kill wanted him to . . . stay?
Swifter than a star falling in the night sky, the boy glimpsed over the enemy king’s shoulder. She stood beside her pale as frost mother. The girl was dressed in a pretty green gown and a gold chain draped over dainty dark curls. Different from the simple nightdresses hidden beneath her oversized fur cloaks when she snuck out to his cell.
Sapphire eyes caught his, and the boy felt a shift. Something sturdy took hold somewhere deep in his chest, a feeling he’d never known before.
Stay. He could stay and hear more of her tales while . . . kings controlled him. That was all this was, another chance for a new version of Harald or Thorvald to shape him into a hand-crafted king of their liking.
With a curl to his lip, the boy turned back to the enemy.
“I know what the guidance of kings means, earth bender,” the boy said in a low snarl.
“I am not your uncle, boy. Nor am I your father.”
Gods, could he read minds? The boy held his breath, uncertain what moves to make when his enemy, a man who should slit the boy’s throat this moment, lowered his voice again.
He spoke even softer, even kinder, as though the earth king knew the secret and sensed the pull to the little bird standing beside her mother. As though the earth bender didn’t mind if a sea serpent befriended a songbird.
“Stay, Erik Bloodsinger,” he said. “There are folk here who would be better for it if you did.”
Once more, the boy looked to the girl. Better for it. Would she be better if he remained in her world? Doubtful. Still, the boy wanted to agree. Fiercer than anything the boy wanted to forget the disdain of his father, forget the hatred, and remain with the little bird and her stories.
But hatred was a fickle thing. The blur of want and desire could be blotted out when hate and fear held fast.
The boy chose his ending. He chose not to remain where songbirds sing their haunting songs. He vowed blood where the enemy offered peace. The boy saw to it the earth bender had no choice but to lock him away.
When the tides spilled over the head of the young Ever King, when the violent currents swallowed him up, dragging him home, he thought of her.
He thought of how one day he might find a way to finish the tale he began on the land of his enemies. He could rid her of the enemy king since, as he’d already come to realize, she wasn’t theirs.
She was always going to be his.
Her name kept rushing through my head with every kick, every strike from the earth fae warriors.
I needed to live for her. I needed to return to the Ever Ship and find her. All I needed to do was survive long enough for Aleksi to speak for me.
Jonas, a prince from one of the earth fae realms, sneered at me as his men shoved a dirty scrap of leather into my mouth. I swallowed against the musty taste of it, as though it had been tucked down sweat-soaked trousers, baking beneath a hot sun.
Jonas gripped my arms and forced me up. Fire lit in my thigh, as though a flame were devouring the bone. I ground my teeth, fighting the pain, and kept my focus ahead.
“Send a signal to the shore watch,” Jonas commanded. “There could be more of these sods in the tides.”
A little longer. Survive a little longer.
Two warriors were trudging toward the trap in which both Alek and Tait had fallen. Soon enough they’d realize their error. I could face the earth bender—on my damn knees if needed—and we could bleeding sail back to the Ever and find my queen.
I didn’t fight when Jonas commanded two warriors to bind my wrists. I didn’t fight when they tugged me forward to where a row of earth stallions awaited their riders. The charges were strange looking. I’d seen them before, but unlike the horthane of the Ever, these beasts hardly seemed capable of swimming in the tides. Dull teeth, rounded hooves, and swishing tails that looked like fae hair.
“Henrik.” Jonas nodded at a warrior. “On second thought, let the other sea fae rot for a bit. I want the focus on the king.”
The warrior dipped his chin and halted ten paces from the sinkhole in the knoll. Shit. They were leaving Aleksi.
From here the muffled shouts of Alek’s and Tait’s voices were there, but wholly unintelligible. Perhaps it was a spell, a curse of fate, but they sounded like nothing more than men shouting through a door far away. Alek’s own people did not realize they’d ensnared a prince. A prince whose voice and support I desperately needed.
A rush of panic tightened in my chest. Through the rancid gag in my mouth I grunted and protested. Jonas merely freed a chuckle laced in venom, mounted his charge, and yanked on the tether around my wrists. I stumbled at the pull.
Jonas leaned over his leg, eyes narrowed. “Keep up, Bloodsinger.”
I was dead.
The prince tugged on the rope again and I limped forward, the weight of suffocating failure pressing on my spine with each, shuffled step.
What would happen to Livia if I did not reach her? Would Gavyn find her? Perhaps he could bring her home, get her free of the troubles of the Ever. She could . . . return to the peace I shattered.
My face tilted toward the sky. The stars were different here. Only Voidwalker would be recognizable, but he was at my back, hovering over the sea.
When I was gone, I hoped . . . I hoped the gods might let me live in both skies like Voidwalker. That way I could always see her.
The warriors kept a steady pace. There were times I stumbled, and the earth prince didn’t slow, merely told me to get up and quicken my steps. By the time we reached the ominous gates of the main fortress, sweat coated my brow, my leg had long ago shifted from burning pain to sharp, numbing pricks like stitching needles dug into every pore.
From one of the watchtowers, a warrior blew a curved horn. The procession halted for a bit at the gates, giving me time to catch my breath through the lump of sweaty leather.
Iron chains clanked and thick rope stretched and groaned as a heavy portcullis broke free of its resting place, allowing the warriors entry.
Eyes studied us, every damn move, as we made our way inside. Murmurs followed like shadows when the folk within the gates recognized the sight of me.
At the wide, arched doorway that would lead into the main hall, we stopped.
Jonas kicked a leg over the furs atop the back of his steed and dropped to the dirt. He leaned into a guard at the door. “Where is King Valen?”
“The tower, My Lord.”
“Fetch him. Now.”
The guard seemed startled at the briskness of the prince’s tone. It didn’t take much to guess, he did not speak in such a way often. No doubt, most of the earth fae folk behaved differently since I’d robbed them of their princess.
Jonas led us into the hall. Not so long ago the windows had been draped in festive ribbons and shades. Stacks of sticky breads and sugared sweets had lined the table for their masque. Now, sweets had been replaced with pungent ale, swords, and scrolls of poorly drawn maps of what I guessed was their version of the Ever.
They were drawn wrong. They’d never find Livia by guessing, and they’d never get through the Chasm with their slender ships that looked more like a sea serpent than a vessel.
I couldn’t die here, or she would die.
I knew Larsson could kill, and ruthlessly. I’d seen enough to give him the damn name of Bonekeeper.
Chatter ceased when Jonas pulled on the rope. “We have Bloodsinger!”
A few gasps followed. Blades were pulled off the table. With a great shove, Jonas knocked me down onto my knees. The cloth fell from my mouth, and laughter rose against the rafters overhead.
Two boots, scuffed and coated in mud, stepped in front of me.
“Pick him up, Stieg,” someone shouted from behind.
The man knelt. Slowly, I lifted my gaze to meet the warrior.
Stieg still had scars on his jaw that crept out from beneath his braided beard. I recalled the moment the scar that cut through his eyebrow was given to him. There’d been more littles than me trapped in that room all those turns ago. He’d protected the lot of us.
If anyone would listen, it would be the warrior.
“I didn’t harm her,” I rushed out in a quick breath. “I didn’t harm either of them. You must listen—”
“I warned you,” Stieg said, a touch of sadness in his tone. “I cannot protect you now, Ever King.”
“Listen to me,” I gritted out. “Your prince is trapped in the knoll, Stieg.”
The use of his name furrowed his brow. Stieg rose, lifting me back to my feet. He kept his hold on my arm, spun me to face the hall, but flicked a hand at two men beside a narrow doorway.
When the men abandoned the hall, I dared hope.
Two paces away, Jonas still wore a vicious kind of grin, and now stood beside a man who shared his face. A brother. Livia had mentioned there were twin princes.
Black like the thickest ink spilled through the whites of their eyes with their dark magic.
Around the princes were warriors gripping blades until their knuckles whitened. Men, women, all of them studied me as if they hoped their eyes would peel the flesh off my bones. Close to Jonas was the woman who’d been beside Livia the night I took her.
She tapped a dagger against her dainty palm. Runes were inked down her forehead, chin, and throat. She, perhaps, looked the most ferocious of them all.
Doors built on one side of the hall slammed against the walls, knocking two shields from their hooks, and the hall silenced like a wave leaving the shore.
There in the doorway, the earth bender king stood, axes in hand, shoulders lifting and falling in heavy, angry breaths. Eyes that once had pity for a boy at the end of the war now burned in malice I could taste.
Stay, Erik Bloodsinger.
The man standing across the hall was not looking for peace. He wanted blood.
Red lined his black eyes with a touch of bloodlust, dark hair spilled over his brow, unkempt and wild. A king of might and dignity during the war, now he seemed more beast than man.
I didn’t have time to take in much of anything before Valen Ferus, the earth bender, killer of my father, spun one of his blacksteel battle axes in his grip. Long, Night Folk fae legs, had him across the hall in less than ten strides.
Stieg abandoned me in the same moment my back slammed against the stone wall. Air fled my lungs from the blow, then was blocked from returning when Valen used the handle of his axe to crush my throat.
“Where is she?” he roared in my face.
His words from so long ago filtered through my mind—Stay.
I was certain the earth bender king would see to it I would always remain. He’d make it so my bones littered this land until they turned to dust.