Authors: Sonya Clark
Chet dropped into a chair in the
Oracle. “You’re sure the goblin’s dead?”
Bettine raised an eyebrow. “It got
in my way so I dealt with it. Nasty thing.”
“Where’s the body?”
“In the incinerator.” Bettine kept
her flinty gaze on Chet.
He had no reason to doubt her. No
specific reason, anyway. Now their goblin problem was over and all that was
left was the last of the cleanup. Maura worked on breaking down the traps.
Niall and Franny had taken the weapons back to storage. Judith was on the other
side of the room, holding her phone to her ear and looking impatient. “Okay.
Guess we can call it a night then.”
Bettine swept from the room without
another word. Chet had a feeling he’d done something to anger her but for once
he didn’t care. She’d left him alone and vulnerable to attack by a nightmare
goblin. Let her stew for a while.
Judith walked over and tossed her
phone onto the table. “When’s the last time anyone saw Sanngrid?”
Chet shrugged. “When she brought
the weapons up?”
Rami ambled over with two cups of
coffee in his hands, offering one to Chet. “Did Pete and Eve ever show up?”
“Maybe they’re in their
apartments.” Chet tasted the coffee. “I don’t think anyone ever called them.”
Judith said, “When you go home,
check on Eve, will you? I don’t like this goblin business going on and not
hearing from my people.”
“I thought we had some things to
discuss.” Chet didn’t want to bring up Devin’s name.
“Damn.” Judith rubbed her temple.
“Yeah, meet me in my office in half an hour.”
The door banged open, Franny and
Niall running in. “We’ve got a problem,” Franny said. She dropped a black box
on the table.
Chet looked inside. “What the hell
Franny pointed at the contents.
“That’s Eve’s hair, I know it is.”
“That’s not all,” Niall said.
“Bloodsinger’s gone and so is Sanngrid and Pete’s personal armor.”
Chet pulled his phone from his
pocket. “I’m calling Pete, somebody else call the other two.”
Rami withdrew his phone and Judith
picked up hers. No one got an answer.
Judith said, “Does anybody know
anything, anything at all?”
“Just that they were going into
town,” Franny said.
Chet rose. “If Pete’s got
Bloodsinger and they’re wearing armor, there’s only one place they could be.
“Pete wouldn’t go to Sideways, he
doesn’t even like being near the gate,” Franny said. She lifted the box,
staring at her friend’s hair.
“He would if someone took Eve.”
Chet looked at Judith. “We’ll need George.”
“He’s in the library, I’ll get
him.” Judith left in a run.
A sense of panic enveloped the
room. They had no idea what happened or where to look. Thinking of the tiny
black diamond found in the kitchen, Chet had an inkling of who they were
Niall said, “Are we to raid?” An
undercurrent of excitement colored his voice.
Chet took a deep breath. “We’ll
need weapons and armor.” He turned to Maura. “And first aid supplies.” Niall,
Rami, and Maura scattered. Chet placed a hand on Franny’s shoulder. “And
someone to hold the fort.”
“No! I can help. They’re my friends
“You have no combat training and we
don’t know what we’re walking into.” He softened his tone. “Please go help with
She left the room angry but he knew
she’d follow orders. What he couldn’t understand was why Pete didn’t come to
him. Pete might care for Eve but if someone took a member of the institute,
getting them back should not be turned into a personal vendetta.
When this was over with Pete was
going to have a lot of explaining to do, privacy about his past be damned.
Whatever hang up he had about Sideways and whatever happened before he came to
it was time for Pete to get
Eve edged closer to Sanngrid,
shivering in the cold. The guards had turned to watch their queen, confident no
one posed a threat. She whispered, “We need to do something.”
“There’s too damn many of them. He
was told to come alone but I should have gone to Chet. I should have gotten us
“No one knows?”
Sanngrid answered with a barely
perceptible shake of her head.
Pete said something to the Bone
Queen, voice pitched too low for Eve to hear. The queen heard it loud and clear
and didn’t like it. She screamed, making a motion with one hand, the fingers
spread out like claws. Pete cried out as matching cuts opened up on his cheek,
blood pouring down his face.
Eve gasped. The scenes downloaded
from the manacles still fresh in her mind, the sensations still sending shock
waves through her, and now this. She’d had enough. She checked to make sure no
guards were watching her then slipped her hand to the small of her back.
“You will pay, Leoben!” The queen
shook with rage. “You will pay and pay and pay. You took many of my favorite
courtiers from me. You left me sliced open like a pig for dinner. I showed you
mercy. And you repaid me with such acts.”
“You don’t know the meaning of the
She scurried close to him, waving
him down so they were at eye level. “I let you keep your intestines on the
inside. That was mercy.” She slashed his other cheek with her nails, this time
Eve reached under her sweater.
“I no longer have mercy in me.” The
queen swiped a knuckle across Pete’s bloody face, licking the blood from her
skin. “You took all the mercy right out of me.” She held out her hand. A guard
placed a short double-edged blade in it. “Cut it right out of me, you did.
Think I’ll see what I can cut out of you.”
She made short work of removing his
armor, then dragged the knife down his front. It split both his shirt and his
skin. Smoke curled from the wound. His face red, body shaking, Pete struggled
not to scream but lost. There’s something on the knife, Eve thought. Poison or
acid or something.
Eve glanced at Agnar, half
expecting him to put a stop to this. He stood looking impassive, even bored. It
didn’t seem possible those two men could be brothers. How could Agnar stand
there and let his sibling be tortured? How could he stand to see Pete in pain?
But he didn’t think of his brother as
. It made no sense that that
might make a difference.
were one and the same.
No matter what he called himself, Pete was still Agnar’s brother.
But Agnar didn’t seem inclined to
still want to be Pete’s brother. Eve gripped the butt of the gun, hoping her
aim and cold iron bullets could do what needed to be done.
The Bone Queen grabbed Pete’s chin,
one nail cutting his lip. “I will know the shape of your heart, Leoben. I will
play a rhythm with your ribs and make a toy of your spine.” She raised the
Eve raised the gun. She pushed
everything else away, tunneling her concentration into a line between the
barrel of the gun and the Bone Queen’s head. She’d get one shot. If they were
lucky if would create enough confusion that they could escape. And if they
weren’t lucky, well, the guards might still kill them but their queen would be dead
Something shifted inside Eve, deep
in the place where her psychometry
came from. She welcomed the
faint tendril of power and wrapped it around her own intention. Then she
squeezed the trigger.
At first Eve thought she’d missed.
The Bone Queen froze, holding the knife a bare two inches from Pete’s chest.
Then the bullet exploded out of the other side of her skull, splattering blood
on the snow. Her body crumpled and Pete was released from her hold, falling to
Not a sound could be heard. All
eyes turned to Eve. “Oh shit.”
One guard rushed forward and knelt
at the queen’s prone form. He inspected the body carefully then raised his head
to address the rest of the warriors. “The queen is dead,” he shouted.
A swell of noise rolled through the
crowd. Pete pulled himself up from where he’d fallen in the snow and made his
way to Eve. Sanngrid flanked her other side. Eve kept the gun aimed, ready to
shoot any Sidhe who made a wrong move until she was out of bullets. She’d had
enough of this crap. Kidnapped, her hair sawed off, psychically tortured,
seeing her friends get hurt
had definitely had enough of this crap.
The guard approached slowly, dark
eyes boring into Eve. She leveled the gun at his head. He was tall like the
rest but more muscular, with broad shoulders under heavy armor. Long vivid
green hung in a braid down his back. Elegant pointed ears framed a chiseled
face that was a mask of stone. He carried a large sword in one hand and wore a
crossbow strapped to his back.
He stopped two feet from the end of
the gun barrel. “The queen is dead,” he repeated, loud enough for all to hear.
He raised his sword in the air, straight up, then bellowed, “All hail the new
Queen of Bone!” He lowered the sword and dropped to one knee in front of Eve,
head lowered, eyes on the ground.
She faltered. What the hell did
that mean? Pete swore under his breath and she could have sworn she heard
The big Sidhe raised his head and
met her eyes. “I pledge my loyalty to you, Highness. I devote myself to you as
Eve lowered the gun, flabbergasted.
Pete said, “It’s Sidhe custom. You
kill a monarch, you take their place.” He sounded flat and vaguely sick.
? That’s crazy. That
makes no sense. They should be trying to kill me.”
The champion guy stood. “What he
says is truth. You have conquered the former queen. That makes you our queen
now. And I swear you will be obeyed.” The threat was clear in his last
statement though he didn’t bother to look out over the rest of the guards.
Eve did. Most wore unreadable
expressions but none seemed inclined to chop her head off. That was good.
Right? Agnar laughed. She glared at him, tempted to shoot at him just to shut
The champion returned to the Bone
Queen’s body and removed her crown. He brought it to Eve, raising it as if to
place it on her head. There were flecks of blood and other…stuff…she was going
to go with snow and not think about it further. “You are not putting that on
me.” She took a step back.
“She’s not required to wear the
crown, or even set foot in the damn castle for that matter,” said Pete. “You
can pledge and devote all you want but there’s no law or custom that says she
has to do anything but be queen in name only.”
The Sidhe warrior looked from Eve
to Pete. He was silent for a long moment, thoughts racing across his face. In a
voice pitched for only them to hear he said, “I understand. Please allow me to
speak to you in private.” He directed the request at Eve.
She nodded. “Can we go back in the
cave where it’s at least a little warmer?”
Pete said, “You don’t have to do
this. We can leave right now.”
“You and Sanngrid both need some
first aid and I want to get this cleared up. I have no desire to be their queen
so let me talk to him and figure out how to get out of this.”
“There is no getting out of this!
You don’t understand.”
“Then you can explain it to me.”
She glanced at the champion. “You both can. In the cave, in front of the fire.
The champion said, “I will tell the
others to make temporary camp. Do you wish for the other mortals to be kept
“Let them go,” Pete said.
Eve stared, unbelieving. “After
what he did?”
“I’ll deal with Agnar in time,
don’t you worry about that.” He pulled his shirt closed as best he could and
went to retrieve his armor.
The champion looked to Eve for his
final orders. “Fine,” she said. “Let them go. I’ll meet you in the cave.”
He bowed his head. “Yes, Highness.”
He hurried off to do whatever. Eve stared at his back. This could not be
happening. She’d meant to help them escape, not get herself trapped in
something possibly worse. Whatever Sidhe custom there was for abdicating a
throne, she would gladly follow.
Sanngrid and Pete were halfway to
the cave, leaving her behind. Great. More crap, and she really didn’t
understand this. Pete had seemed almost angry with her. She’d had no idea what
shooting the Bone Queen would lead to, he had to know that. Stopping the queen
from hurting Pete had been Eve’s primary thought. Now he wouldn’t even meet her
Eve trudged through the snow,
followed closely by the champion. She really needed to find out his name and
quit thinking of him that way. By the time they reached the interior of the
cave Pete had already brought the fire back to life. The champion put himself
to work moving bodies out of the way, sending any living down to the camp for
aid. He seemed unconcerned about seeing his compatriots dead, or at least he
hid it well. Finished with the gruesome task, he took a pack from his gear and
handed it to Eve. “There are healing herbs and such in here. It will be safe
for them, I swear it.”
His formal demeanor was starting to
wear on her but she took the pack and thanked him. Sanngrid sat on the floor.
Pete stood in front of the fire, staring. Eve pursed her lips and went to
Sanngrid offered her a wan smile
and let her tend the wound in her arm. Eve addressed the champion as she
worked. “What’s your name?”
He froze. “My name?”
“Yes, your name. I can’t very well
, can I?”
He opened his mouth, closed it,
then spoke. “The former queen addressed me as
.” He spoke with
an almost painful dignity, as if he’d worked hard to hold on to it.
Eve shook her head. “I’d rather
call you by name if that’s all right.”
He took a step closer. “Kieran. My
name is Kieran.”
“How long have you been the queen’s
champion?” She wanted to know if he’d been around when Pete was held captive.
She’d seen no sign of recognition between the two but it would be nice to know
“Not long. You understand time can
move differently here?”
She nodded. “And you don’t want to
kill me even though I killed your old queen?”
“Eve,” she interrupted. “I’d rather
you call me by my name, please.”
“That would not be appropriate.”
Pete finally spoke, though he still
kept his back to them. “Call her Miss Kane.”
Kieran looked to her once again for
the final say-so. She nodded. “Miss Kane, may I speak freely? With total
“I wish you would.”
“The late queen was not…she had
many disturbing proclivities.”
Pete issued a harsh laugh. “She
liked to torture people. She liked to make them bleed, toss them in a corner
and forget them, and then later torture them some more. Went a little beyond
disturbing, I’d say.”
Kieran paled. “That is the truth.
Her appetites were…unhealthy. She attracted courtiers with similar appetites.
Miss Kane, it might not be safe for you to claim the castle until those members
of the court are…dealt with.”
Eve considered this for a moment.
She had no wish to visit that castle. “How do I go about abdicating the
“You don’t,” Pete said. He turned
to face her. The old Pete was back, harsh, closed off, and holding himself at
arm’s reach from everyone. Further than that, even. “Custom dictates monarchies
pass through inheritance or death. There is no abdicating.”
She looked to Kieran for
confirmation, seeing it in his face. He said, “There are those who would kill
you rather than wait to see what sort of monarch you would be. Because of their
loyalty to the late queen, and because you are human. You cannot abdicate but
until the situation at the castle is stabilized it’s not safe for you there. Or
anywhere on this side.”
Pete said, “And are you the one to
do this stabilizing?” The challenge was clear in his voice and his body
language. He was looking for a fight.
This time Kieran didn’t look to Eve
for guidance. “I am. I can make the castle safe again. I can stop the
“Why were you her champion?” Pete
demanded. “That’s something warriors seek for their own glory. If you wanted
glory in that pit of vipers how the hell do you expect me to believe you’ll
clean it up?”
“I did not seek the role, it was
forced on me. But I have performed my duty as best I could. I had no choice.”
“Bullshit! You’re looking to set
yourself up as steward in her absence.”
“That is not true,” Kieran said,
Eve came to stand between them.
“Kieran, you said you were forced. How so?”
He glanced at the fire, pain in his
features. “She took my daughter,” he whispered. “She threatened to sell her to
the highest bidder if I refused her.”
No wonder he was glad to have a new
queen.“How old is your daughter? Is she safe?”
“She lives in a locked room in the
castle. I was allowed to visit at the queen’s discretion. It has been many
months since I’ve seen her. She is but a child.”
Damn it. “Where’s her mother?”
“Dead. The queen slit her throat
when she raided our village.”
Eve stepped closer to the fire.
Pete moved away from her. His attitude confused her but right now she had
bigger things to deal with. In the memories from those manacles Agnar had
forced on her, she saw more than just Pete in that awful place. There had been
many captives. So very many. “You said you would stop the violence.”
Kieran nodded. “The courtiers who
share her habits would have to be dealt with first. Then it would be safe to
open the cells and let the prisoners go free.”
“Are there people you can trust to
help you with this?”
“I will have to be careful but yes,
I can find enough who will serve you. I would need your authority to take
“So you do need to be my…what’s the
“Yes, Miss Kane. And on my honor I
will obey both the letter and the spirit of your decrees.” He paused for a long
moment, his dark eyes punching right through her. “In exchange for my
In the midst of all this insanity
that was something she could understand. “Done. I name you my steward.”
“Your majesty.” He inclined his
head. When he met her eyes again, his burned with an intensity that almost
frightened her. “You will have no greater ally.”