Read The Shadow Prince Online

Authors: Bree Despain

The Shadow Prince (3 page)

“Make the vow,” the Oracle’s priest says.

King Ren holds the dagger out in front of him. I can barely hear anything over the sound of my pulse pounding in my head and my heavy breaths huffing against the stone altar. I make out something he says about the water from the river Styx, the river of unbreakable vows.…

I blink. When my eyes flutter open, the Oracle is standing in front of me.

“Show him,” King Ren says.

The Oracle’s glittering blue hand reaches for me, her icy touch lands once again between my eyes. Her fingers are so cold. I
wonder what memory she will steal from me this time, but instead, my thoughts coil inside my brain and my vision flickers black for a moment. A string of images enters my thoughts, layering upon each other until they form one fluid, moving picture.

At first, the images tell a story I already know. It’s the old myth we Underlords are raised on. It’s stitched into every tapestry and carved into every door I have passed in my lifetime, even on the altar I lean upon now, but then the pictures shift and I see the silhouette of a girl standing in a bright light.

We’ve found her—the Cypher
. I hear the Oracle’s words inside my head and not with my ears.
We have found the one who can restore what has been taken from the Underlords. You are the Champion whom fate has chosen to bring her to us
. The outline of the girl grows more defined but I still can’t make out her face.
You will have six months to convince her to return to the Underrealm with you. But she must come willingly. No human can pass through Persephone’s Gate without the mortal’s consent. This quest is your destiny. The fate of the Underrealm lies on your shoulders, young Haden

I nod and the Oracle’s icy touch lifts off my skin. The images in my head flicker to black. I open my eyes and look up at her covered face.

“Do you understand what you have been shown?” the priest asks.

I don’t know if I do—I have never heard anything about a
in any of my lessons—but the entire
population of the Underrealm is watching me, and I dare not say that I don’t understand.


“Very good.”

“What is her name?” I ask the Oracle.
I need to know her name

The Oracle takes three steps away from me and then turns to
King Ren. She indicates the knife in his hand.

“Finish it. Seal the will of fate,”
the priest says for her.

Blue wisps of lightning crackle forth from Ren’s hand and wind their way up the dagger he holds.

I have been struck by lightning several times in my nearly seventeen years—in training and in fights—but I am unprepared for the jolt of pain that sears through my body as my father stabs the electrified dagger into my tricep. I go limp against the altar.

Ren pulls the knife from my arm and then makes several small, burning incisions into my skin—cutting and cauterizing my flesh at the same time. I cannot see what he is doing but it feels as though he is carving letters into my skin.

“You want to call me Father?” he says. “To be my heir? To have your honor restored?”

“Yes,” I hiss through gritted teeth.

“Then you bring this girl to me,” he says, squeezing the wound he’s carved into my arm. It takes every last bit of strength I have not to scream. “You return victorious, and I will crown you as my heir and allow you to call me
once again. But if you do not bring her to me when the gate between the Underrealm and the mortal world reopens in six months’ time, then mark my words, your hair is not the only thing you will lose.”

He slides his knife up to my throat to illustrate his point, then stalks away to his throne, gesturing to the ranks of Underlords who stand behind me and the crowds of onlookers beyond them. “Out!” he demands. “Everybody, out!”

The crowd quickly snaps back into its lines and begins to leave the throne room, following his order. I start to rise, but my head swims and I steady myself against the altar. I am stuck in a position that looks as though I am half bowing, half standing as the
bystanders file out around me. I do not understand what is happening. After all the protestations, I have finally been Chosen. Which means the ceremony is supposed to go on. I am supposed to be endowed with the blessing of the Court. A wreath of laurel leaves is supposed to be placed upon my head, crowning me with glory. There is supposed to be a feast of celebration in honor of the Champions. The servants have been preparing it for weeks.

Instead, everyone is being sent away.

Ren looks in my direction. “I said for
to get out.” He speaks with a quiet composure that makes me shiver more than if he had shouted with rage.

I stumble through the now-empty throne room. My head aches, my arm throbs, and my neck feels naked and exposed without my hair. All I want to do is return to my bedchambers and collapse, but I know the challenges of this day aren’t over yet, and I’m not quite ready to face them.

The aftereffects of the lightning that ravaged through my body make it hard to concentrate on staying upright, let alone anything else. Knowing I can’t be seen by anyone at this point, I lean against one of the golden doors at the end of the torch-lit corridor. The strangest mixture of grief, relief, and pride grips me, and I let out the smallest of sobs.

When I regain my composure, I inspect the cauterized scars on my arm and discover the words that Ren has carved there.

It’s the name of the girl I have six months to convince to return with me to the Underrealm. The girl who can give me the status to be elevated over Rowan and the other Elite. The girl who holds the key to restoring everything that has been taken from me:

Daphne Raines.

chapter two

“It’s do or die, Daphne,” CeCe says, with a sassy, almost devious tone as she wades through the sea of red balloons that separate her workstation from mine. Despite her flame red hair and freckled skin, she always reminds me of Billie Holiday with her warm, old-school, jazzy vibe. “Ask him while you have the chance.”

I know she’s right. Mom could be back any minute, and I am more likely to get a positive answer from Jonathan than her. Especially after the look Mom had made when she answered the phone call that came about ten minutes ago. I figured it must be the bank again, considering she took the handset outside and then all the way into the bungalow she and I live in behind the flower shop. It is calls like this that make me so determined to do what I have in mind.

“Go for it, Daph,” CeCe says, and pushes me through the bouquets of red and orange balloons we’ve been inflating for Ellis High’s September Social. Jonathan and his magenta apron come into view.

I clear my throat. It’s not that I’m reluctant to do what I need to do—it’s that I know I’m a terrible liar. But is it lying if you’re just omitting a small portion—okay, about 56.2 miles’ worth—of the truth? “Hey, Uncle Jonathan …,” I start to say, but the loud
clank of the bell over the front door of the shop interrupts me.

Jonathan looks up from the ribbons he’s been cutting into balloon strings. “Can you get that?” he asks, referring to the customer who must have just entered the shop.

“Indie’s up there,” I say. “She can handle it.”

Jonathan balks. “You know she doesn’t have cash register privileges yet.”

I give CeCe a stricken look. I don’t want to lose my chance.

“I’m on it,” she says, and then mouths to me, “Do it!” as she disappears into the balloons on her way out of the back-room workshop to the storefront.

“Welcome to Paradise Plants!” I hear Indie say so enthusiastically, I can imagine the unsuspecting customer jumping at the sound of her voice.

“So … Uncle Jonathan,” I try to say so nonchalantly that it ends up sounding pained instead. I turn away slightly so he can’t see the blush that hits my cheeks. I grab a stray balloon by its string and twist it into the nearest bouquet of red and orange.
No big deal. Just doing my work and striking up a conversation with my favorite uncle, who isn’t actually related to me
. “Um … so … when I’m done with this, do you think I could get off early? I mean, the decorations are being picked up in a few minutes, and I know we still have some cleanup, but CeCe said she’d stay later so I could beg off a little early. If that’s okay with you?”

Jonathan cuts one more ribbon and then squints his eyes in a way that makes me worried that my not-quite-lying omission of the truth came tripping off my tongue so fast that he didn’t comprehend my words and I’m going to have to start over again. Then he gives me a jolly grin. “Need extra time to get ready for your dance date, eh?”

“Yeah,” I say, concentrating a little too hard on tying the strings of my balloon bouquet into a big knot. “You know me. Gotta look my best for that big date!”

“Daphne,” Jonathan says, his tone shifting ever so slightly lower.

I glance at him and see that his grin has disappeared.

He shakes the spool of ribbon in my direction. “Cut the crap, honey. I do know you. Enough to know you rejected
the boys who asked you. Even after that sweet Richards kid sent you a chocolate-dipped-fruit arrangement from that store in Hurricane. You threw it in the trash.”

“Because I’m allergic to strawberries. You know that.”

“Yes, but you could have let me eat them,” Jonathan says with a pout and drops the spool on his worktable. He reaches into the front pocket of his bright magenta apron. “And I also know where you
on going this evening instead of the dance.” He pulls out a folded-up flyer and splays it out on the worktable. He stabs one of his large fingers at the words:



The flyer must have dropped out of my apron when I hung it up during my break. I’d been keeping it in my pocket for good luck. Load of good that had done me.

“Jonathan, I can—”

He holds up his hand in a
gesture. “Just be glad I found this and not your mother. You know the conniption she would have if she found out you were planning on sneaking off to Cedar City for the evening. You made a deal with your mother not to
leave Ellis Fields again without her permission.”

Yes. I know all too well. In my almost seventeen years, I had been on one, and only one, trip outside of my hometown.

Ellis Fields is a tiny speck that you can only see on a Google map of southern Utah if you zoom in real close, tucked into Apollo Canyon and surrounded by miles and miles of nothing but desert and red-rock formations in every direction. My mom is so rooted here that the town legend goes that her ancestors were here even before Ellis was founded. And leaving it isn’t exactly easy, especially when your mom forbids it and you don’t have a driver’s license yet. A lesson I’d learned the hard way when I was almost thirteen years old. After fighting with my mom for, like, the ten thousandth time about how she never let me go on class field trips or even to the Zion outlet malls, which are a forty-five-minute drive outside town, I’d tried to run away to Saint George on my bike. But I crashed while careening down Canyon Road. I ended up sitting on the side of the remote highway, dehydrated, with a flat tire, a broken arm, and a concussion until Mom and Jonathan found me an hour later, merely one hundred yards from the
sign. I did eventually make it to Saint George that day, but it was to spend the weekend at Dixie Regional Medical Center.

That’s when the infamous deal had been struck. While hopped up on painkillers and still freaked out about my near-death experience in the desert, I’d agreed to stop pressing my mom about leaving Ellis—and not run off again—and she’d agreed to give me a longer leash once I got my driver’s license. I’d been dreaming of ultimate freedom, but at just over two months shy of my seventeenth birthday, with
no license in hand (no thanks to my mom), I was beginning to think I’d been duped into a really bogus deal.

“But look”—I point at the flyer—“second prize is
twenty-five hundred dollars
. That’s exactly what Mom needs to replace the flower cooler in the front of the shop—and you know the bank isn’t going to give her another loan. It’s
one night
, Jonathan. Please?”

“But what about first prize?”

“What about it?”

“It says here”—he practically stabs the flyer with his ribbon scissors—“that if you win first prize, they’ll haul you off to Las Vegas for the next round of competition, and then possibly New York City after that. It won’t just be one night
. Your mother would never stand for it, and I’d be a dead man for letting you get into this mess.”

“Who says I’m going to win first prize?”

Jonathan rolls his eyes. “One thing you don’t need to be is modest, Daphne. You and I both know you’ve got first place in the bag.”

“Well, I’ll never know if you don’t let me go.” I give him a teasing smile. “I might stink at singing and nobody in this tiny town knows the difference.” Ellis High School is so small, we don’t even have a real music department.

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