I HAVE TO keep my face impassive, unreadable. It’s easier than I expect because I’m dead inside. I can’t feel anything but a cold, jagged iceberg surrounding my heart.
“McKenzie,” Kyol says as soon as we exit the king’s hall. “What’s wrong?”
I don’t answer, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I thought I learned what a broken heart felt like when I thought Kyol died trying to protect me from the rebels. That pain had been cutting and deep, but at least I felt something then.
Numb, I turn toward the sculpture garden.
“No.” Kyol ushers me the opposite direction. “This way.”
He’s taking me to his quarters, I realize. I should run, but where am I supposed to go? I’m trapped in the Realm unless a fae fissures me back to my world. I’ll even need a fae to fissure me to Aren.
I stare straight ahead. I fell for the bad guy. It’s such a typical, stupid, girly thing to do. But then, I was sixteen when I met Kyol. Maybe he was part of my teenage rebellion. I was too young, too na?ve, to see past his manipulations.
God, I’ve been so wrong about him. He’s not honorable; he’s conniving. Every smile, every touch, every look of concern he’s ever given me, it’s all a lie. A
We climb a staircase. This isn’t all my fault. Kyol’s the real asshole here. I may have spent the last decade reading shadows for the Court, but I can undo all the help I’ve given them in three short syllables. I’m going to find Aren. I’m going to give him the location of the
By the time we reach Kyol’s room, I’m not numb anymore. I’m pissed.
He gently closes the door. “McKenzie, talk to me.”
I shouldn’t say anything. I should pretend everything is okay, but something inside me snaps.
“Talk to you?” I snarl as I turn on him. “Why don’t you talk to me, Kyol? Why don’t you try telling me the truth?”
His silver eyes widen in surprise. He actually staggers back a step. “What are you talking about?”
“Everything,” I say. “But why don’t we start with Naito? You promised he was fine.”
Confusion wrinkles his brow. “He is fine.”
“I swear it.”
I ignore his lie. “Maybe we should talk about something else? Like how you’re going to convince me to cooperate? It’s going to take a hell of a lot more than a kiss to manipulate me this time. You’ll have to rape me because I won’t sleep with you. Not willingly.” I slam my hands into his chest.
Comprehension finally dawns on his face. “You understood.”
“Damn right, I did.”
“Everything?” He braces a hand against the wall. “You understood everything.”
He looks so wounded. A part of me wants to reach out and comfort him, but no. It’s only part of his act.
I hang on to my anger. “I gave up my life for you, Kyol. I haven’t talked to my family in
I pace the room. “I thought Atroth’s decree kept us apart. Ridiculous. Did I make you sick every time you touched me? Did you have to hold your breath when we kissed? Did you!”
He shakes his head. “No, McKenzie, it’s not like that. I—”
“You knew Aren was a front, didn’t you? Sethan had to hide behind him because you’d go after his family if you knew he was leading the rebels. That’s what you’re doing in Haeth now, isn’t it?”
“McKenzie, we weren’t sure. Please.” He takes a step toward me.
He winces, but drops his hand to his sword. I freeze, realizing how easy it would be for him to kill me with that blade. Humans mean nothing to him. We’re only tools.
He releases the hilt quickly and lets his hand hang by his side. Softly, he says, “I’d never hurt you.”
“You already have.”
His Adam’s apple bobs when he swallows. “There were things I couldn’t tell you, but I’ve never lied.”
I laugh, and tears begin to pool in my eyes.
“I haven’t lied,” Kyol insists. “I . . .” He stops, closes his eyes briefly and recomposes himself. “Okay. My omissions could be construed as lies, yes.”
I dig my fingernails into my palms to keep my tears from brimming over. “What else haven’t you told me? Aside from murdering Naito?”
Another grimace. He hangs his head, staring at the floor. “This war, McKenzie, it’s complicated—”
“Yeah. I figured that out.”
He ignores my interruption, continues. “I’ve been friends with Atroth since we were boys. When he took the throne, I supported him. He was a good king—he still is—but the rebels have caused him to make decisions nobody has liked. Yes, there’ve been some atrocities, but they’ve been committed on
“The Court isn’t innocent.”
“The rebels are worse by far—”
“McKenzie, please.” He reaches for my arm, but I jerk back. I should have turned away, though, because I see the breath whoosh out of his lungs.
“He’s turned you against me,” he says, blindly reaching behind him for the edge of his desk.
I keep my spine straight, my chin up. “He’s turned me against the Court. Yes.”
He shakes his head. “You can’t trust him, McKenzie. Please don’t trust him. He’s spoken mistruths, used your insecurities against you.”
“Insecurities?” I echo. “Insecurities! I’ve waited ten fucking years for you, Kyol! Do you know how pathetic that is? No sane woman would wait on a man for that long, but I did because I was fool enough to believe I was caught in some kind of fairy tale. My delusions let you walk all over me.”
“I’ve treated you well.”
“No, you selfish bastard, you haven’t. You’ve manipulated me. You kissed me when I was sixteen to seal my loyalty to the Court and now you say all the right things to keep me hanging on by the thinnest thread of hope. Well, screw you. You never gave a damn about me.”
“You’re wrong, McKenzie. You’re wrong. I’ve loved you from the moment I first stepped into your world.”
My heart throbs in my chest. I won’t listen to this, won’t let him manipulate me anymore. “I’ve wanted to hear those words for a decade. Convenient you say them
He steps toward me. “I’m not saying it to—”
I back away. “I don’t believe you anymore.”
“If you’ll just listen.” He presses closer.
My heel hits the wall. “I’ve been listening. I’ve hung on your every fucking word for far too long and I’m through with it. I’m through with y—”
His mouth covers mine, silencing me. He pins me to the wall, pressing against me so hard I couldn’t escape if I wanted to. I
Kyol’s lips leave mine, but he keeps my face cradled between his palms.
I place both my hands on his chest and shove. “No!”
He wouldn’t have budged if he didn’t want to, but he gives me space, moving to the opposite wall. He leans against it, looking defeated and devastated, and I have to turn away. It’s difficult to fall out of love with someone. I don’t want to hurt him, but he’s not the man I thought he was. He’s not Kyol. He’s a stranger. A murderer.
I stare out the window behind his bed. The silver walls surrounding the palace rise up in the distance. Between here and the wall, Corrist’s wealthier merchants and nobles have built their homes. The nobles have residences elsewhere as well, and most of the merchants probably haven’t hand-sold a thing in years, but being permitted to step foot within the capital city means you’re somebody. Maybe I picked up on that, thought I was somebody, too. Meeting the king, knowing Kyol and other members of the Inner Court, made me think I was important. And Kyol took me to the
I jump when Kyol slams his fist against the door. “No!”
Before I realize he’s moving, he’s at my side.
“It’s not ending like this.”
His hand fastens around my arm and he yanks me from his room.
Panicked, I pry at his fingers. “Let go, Kyol.”
“Quiet,” he snaps, ignoring the curious looks of the fae we pass. I’m tempted to plead for help, but no one will cross Kyol, especially when he’s like this, looking like he’ll slaughter anyone who breathes too loudly. His face is rigid, all hint of pain and uncertainty gone.
I’ve screwed up, pushed him too far. I should have kept my mouth shut and disappeared without a word. Now I might not get the chance because—holy hell—I think he’s leading me to the basements. There’s nothing down there but the dungeon and storage.
He forces me down a staircase. A rack of unlit torches hangs on the wall. He passes his hand over one of them, sending magic into its glass orb, and takes it with us down the dark passageway.
It’s cold and I can’t see anything beyond the torch’s blue-white glow. I feel like a rat in a maze, but Kyol knows exactly where he’s going. I consider trying to buy my freedom with the anchor-stone in my pocket, but I want to give that to Kyol about as much as I wanted to give the location of the
Kyol stops before a heavy wooden door, knocks twice. We wait. If I wasn’t terrified, I’d find the silence awkward. I’ve been comfortable with Kyol for the past ten years. I never thought anything could change that, but then, I thought he loved me. I thought I knew him.
“You’re hurting my arm,” I say. Immediately, his hand loosens.
The door cracks open, unmuffling the sounds of moans and murmurings beyond its threshold. A fae woman peeks out and frowns, seeing me first before opening the door wider.
It’s too clean to be the dungeon, and while some fae are tied down to cots, most are free and sitting up. It’s a large chamber, one that reminds me of the temporary shelters the governments in my world set up after a natural disaster. About a dozen workers tend to the sick. I focus on a man moaning and rocking near me.
“This is the rebels’ work,” Kyol says. “
These fae aren’t like the
Kwinn begins rocking and moaning. I close my eyes, trying to cope with the mix of emotions tangling through me. Aren’s not innocent. He did this.
Kyol’s hand slides down to grasp mine. “I’ve never wanted you to see the horrors of war. Your nightmares are bad enough without seeing fae waste away like this. I’ve kept certain things from you to keep your conscience clean and to keep you safe. Maybe that was a mistake.”
I didn’t need to be coddled. I needed to be given all the facts so I could make my decisions based on what was real, not on someone’s twisted version of the truth.
“Is this not enough?” Kyol asks.
I say nothing. This . . . this torture is one of the things Aren kept hidden from me. He knew it would bolster my resistance to him. And it does. I swear the anchor-stone pulses in my pocket, urging me to hand it over. Are there no good guys in this war?
“Just take me back to my world.”
Kyol’s jaw clenches. “You need more evidence? Fine.”
He pulls me from the room. The blue glow from his torch lights the corridor. We descend another staircase, take a left turn, and eventually stop in front of an iron gate guarded by two swordsmen. They acknowledge Kyol with nods and me with mildly curious glances. The fae on the left turns a key in the lock and swings the gate open.
Swords, spears, bows, and other weapons are propped up in racks against both walls while
Kyol leads me through the labyrinth of arms. At the far end, the room takes a sharp left turn and a fae—I recognize him as Garrad, one of Kyol’s swordsmen—rises from a chair. Kyol signals him to sit as he crosses to the stone wall on the right. He drags an old, wooden cart out of the way and then makes a fist with his right hand before flattening his palm on a stone high up on the wall. Just like with Lorn’s escape tunnel in Lyechaban, blue light surrounds the rectangle, and a moment later, a three-by-five-feet section of the wall grinds aside.
Kyol wedges his torch into the groove in the stone floor and then pulls me beneath the low overhang.
“Now!” someone shouts from inside.
Kyol shoves me back as he draws his sword, swinging and narrowly missing—
It takes me longer to comprehend everything that just occurred than it took for it to actually happen. Now I’m staring at Naito, who’s staring up at me, his right cheek already swelling.
“Naito.” I fall to my knees beside him and help him sit up. “God, I thought you were dead.”
“Not yet,” he says.
Relief floods me and I’m shaking because maybe I wasn’t a complete fool. Maybe I didn’t entirely misjudge Kyol. I peer over my shoulder. His sword is still drawn, the steel a barrier between the other human and me.
I turn back to Naito. “Are you okay?”
“I think my face is shattered but I’m alive.”
“We have to get you out of here.” I help him to his feet, then glance at the other human. “Both of you.”
“That’s not possible,” Kyol says. He still hasn’t lowered his guard.
“You can put your sword away,” I tell him. When he doesn’t budge, I stand and place my hand on his, making him lower the weapon.
Slowly, he reaches up and tucks my hair behind my ear. “If I hadn’t taken him through the gate,
“Aren’t you a fucking hero,” Naito says from behind me. A muscle twitches in Kyol’s cheek.
I glare over my shoulder. “You’re not helping.”
Naito crosses his arms and leans against the wall. “I want out of here. I’m not staying locked up for weeks or months like him.”
The other human does look like he’s been here awhile. A grungy shirt hangs over his lean frame and a scraggly beard covers a face that I’m sure would be pale if it weren’t covered in dirt. But he’s alive. They both are. Because of Kyol.
I turn back to him. “You can’t keep them here forever.” “I don’t plan to,” he says. “Tell us where we can find the rebels, McKenzie. When we end the war, I’ll send them both back to your world. I swear it.”
The diamond necklace is heavy in my pocket, but the Court no longer has my allegiance. I won’t help them, not ever again.
“I’ve told you everything I know.”
There’s a glimmer of something in his eyes. Pain? Disappointment? I can’t be sure.
“Kyol, please,” I try again. “They can’t stay—”
“They’re alive. That’s all I can do right now.”
Before I can say anything else, he pulls me from the cell. When he turns to pick up the torch from its groove in the floor, I catch Naito’s eye. I hope the look I give him is reassuring. I hope it tells him I won’t leave him imprisoned. I’ll find a way to get both humans out of here.
I’M not qualified to plan a jailbreak, but I don’t have a choice. As Kyol leads me out of the palace’s basements, I’m plotting how I’m going to return. I’m going to need help breaking Naito and the other human out. That much is clear.
We don’t say anything to each other as we walk, not until we stop in front of the door to a room I’ve stayed in before. He takes my hands in his. My gaze darts down both ends of the corridor, but no other fae are in sight.
“I love you, McKenzie,” he tells me quietly. “Despite what you heard today, I meant what I said last night. I want to be with you. In your world or mine, it doesn’t matter. But I can’t abandon Atroth with the rebels still trying to overthrow him.”
When I don’t respond, he lets out a sigh. “I have some things I must take care of today. Will you be okay by yourself for a while? It may be late before I’m able to return.”
I nod, feeling like shit for what I’m about to do.
He starts to say something else, stops and squeezes my hands instead. Then he plants a kiss on the top of my head, turns, and walks away, back to his responsibilities as Atroth’s sword-master. It still hurts, being second to his king.
I don’t go inside my room after he leaves. Being alone with my thoughts? Not a good idea. Instead, I find my way back to the sculpture garden. What I’m planning is risky—I could be betrayed or end up imprisoned or worse—but I have to take the risk.
It doesn’t take long to find who I’m looking for. He’s here, sitting on a bench beside the statue of a