As Arya paces back and forth she fumes. Malich knew. He knew the truth about her parents and he didn’t tell her. He hid them in the Summer Court of all places where his ruthless brothers could lay harm to them. It’s both clever and stupid. Kahlem wouldn’t think to look under his own nose for them, but having them so close to him could have gone wrong in so many ways.
“Wearing a hole in the floor?” Alara asks, entering the throne room...
Narrowing her eyes at her sister Arya asks, “Tell me, if you can see so much, why couldn’t you see that they were right under our noses this whole time?”
“My ability is dialed to only one channel Arya…you. And anyone whose lifeline crosses yours.”
“And when you slit my throat?”
“I knew you would die,” Alara’s eyes meet the floor. “And then I knew the Goddesses of light would resurrect you.”
“Did you know that beforeor afteryou slit my throat?”
Alara meets Arya’s gaze again. “After,” she admits.
“And you did it anyway?”
“For my son,” Alara nods.
“Which begs the question how much further will you go to protect him and how many persons will you use along the way because they’re expendable to you?”
“I am not your enemy Arya.”
“No? Only time will tell, won’t it?”
Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of footsteps entering the council room. Evander comes into view followed by two people, a man and woman she doesn’t recognize, and three small children. Arya takes in the children clutching the woman’s hands and then the man. A knot forms in her throat. Could this be…?
The woman’s gaze slides over to Arya and Alara. A hint of recognition sparks in her eyes and she clasps her hand to her mouth. Tears form in her eyes and the man standing next to her follows her gaze. He too eyes both Alara and Arya. He’s the first to approach them.
“You’re the twins,” he smiles. “I’m Cassian Vale.”
“Our father,” Alara smiles back. The man purses his brows together in confusion. “Why can’t I see your lifeline?”
“We had it shielded long ago so no one would ever know your whereabouts,” Fayrah answers.
She approaches with the little ones now clinging to her skirt. Cupping her hand to the side of Arya’s face she exhales. Arya tries to feel something…anything, but she doesn’t. These people feel and look like strangers.
Uncomfortable Arya backs out of Fayrah’s grasp, earning a questioning glance from Alara. “These are not our parents,” Arya narrows her eyes at them. She doesn’t know how she knows, she just does.
Shaking her head, Arya storms out into the corridor. Once she’s away from view, she leans against the wall and clenches her eyes shut. She spent all this time waiting…all this time hoping to find the Vales or some shred of evidence as to her true identity, only to reach yet another dead-end.
“Are you okay?” Lumi asks. She leans against the wall next to Arya and offers her a supportive smile.
“Trying to figure out who I am has been nothing but a fools errand.” Arya sighs. “All this time wasted. How many times have we searched for them? How many times have we gone to the Summer Court? How long has Malich known of their whereabouts and kept it to himself? The only reason he tells me now is because he believes they are in danger. But what else has my beloved not told me? What else is he hiding from me?”
Seeing how hurt Arya is, Lumi tries to soothe her best friend. “Doesn’t the fact that he would think to warn you point to the fact that he still loves you?” Lumi suggests.
“He left me to be King of the Winter Court. He doesn’t get to love me,” Arya spits.
Lumi shrugs. “Maybe he didn’t have a choice.”
“This is Malich Jarrah we’re talking about. His only devotion is to himself and the crown. He isn’t the abdicating kind Lumi. Do you really believe he’d give up the Summer and Winter Court titles to come play house with me?” Arya scoffs.
“No, but who says he has to?” Lumi asks.
“Life!” She shouts. “He cannot be the King of the Winter Court, the Redlands, and the Seelie Court. Not to mention the Prince of the Summer Court. He’d be spreading himself too thin. And lets not forget he has a wife who carries his child.”
“That’s the part that really bothers you, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is. Weare supposed to be betrothed. I’msupposed to be carrying his child, not her,” Arya sulks, “nothing is the way it should be. The way he promisedme it would. And I cannot hand over the Seelie Kingdom to a Summer Court Prince. My people would revolt. They already feel as if Malich Jarrah has too much power.”
“Then perhaps what’s happening between you and Malich is happening for a reason. Perhaps its Anan’s way of balancing the world by evening the playing field.” Lumi suggests.
“And ripping my heart out? What part of that balances the world? Bringing these imposters to me…what part of that screams balance?”
Lumi shrugs, “They’ve taken something from you that is irreplaceable and given you back something of equal measure. The Vale’s may or may not be your parents, but they could have answers Arya.”
“Lumi’s right,” Alara steps into the corridor taking up space against the wall on Arya’s other side.
Scrunching her brow together Arya asks, “What do you mean?”
“I mean Fayrah and Cassian Vale are not our parents, they confirmed it. They were paid by a seer to deliver us to Malich Jarrah.”
Arya narrows her eyes, turning to her sister. “Both of us? Not just me?” Alara nods. Yet another lie of Malich’s she’s uncovered. “Malich said he found me in the snow.”
Scoffing, Alara replies, “The man is a pathological liar, this really shouldn’t surprise you.”
It’s no secret Alara and Malich have a love-hate relationship. She wants Arya to give up on him, but how can she? He’s imprinted on her life, etching himself into her marrow. And he gave her a warning at least. Had he not have warned her, the Vale’s would be dead and she wouldn’t be closer to the truth. He helped them escape despite knowing Arya would learn the truth about his lies. That has to count for something.
“Did they say anything else? Who is this seer that paid them?”442Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡUZzlJtQkBQ
Alara shrugs. “Your guess is as good as mine. Either they don’t know or they aren’t telling. And I can’t read them.”
“Then perhaps I’ll make them tell us,” Arya pushes off the wall unsheathing her stilettos.
“They have children with them.” Alara points out. “Go in there like this and you’ll frighten them. Are we in the business of frightening kids now?”
“We won’t have to if they tell us what we want to know.”
“Have you ever considered that perhaps, we are better off not knowing?”
Arya turns to her sister with disbelief. “You can’t possibly believe that.”
Before Alara can speak, Evander interrupts them. “Your Majesty, King Rayne has just arrived outside the perimeter wall with a small protective detail.”
Arya whips her head in his direction, her heart lodged in her throat. Her eyes grow wide and she looks to Lumi. For what she has no clue. Only that she needs an anchor and leaning on her best friend is the most comforting thing she can do as that name rocks her to her core. She turns to Alara and instructs her. “See the Vale’s to comfortable rooms.” Alara nods and leaves the room. Arya flicks her eyes to Evander. “What does he want?”
“He wouldn’t say. Navi is-”
Before he can finish Arya hurries to the throne room. Ihsan broke Navi’s heart and she’s finally gotten to a place where she’s not drowning herself in spirits or entertaining a different male in her bed every night. Ihsan being here might undo all of the progress she’s made.
They reach the throne room and Arya swallows hard. Navi stands at the back of the room, arms clasped behind her back, expressionless as Ihsan stands only a few feet away from her. From the look on Ihsan’s face, Arya doubts he even notices the girl.
“King Rayne,” Arya nods to him. Sweet Anan… he looks even better than she remembers. “Before we begin, Navi, you are relieved of your duties for the time being.”
Something like relief washes over Navi’s face. She nods gratefully to Arya and quickly leaves the room. She and Ihsan glance briefly at one another before she exits. Once she’s gone, Ihsan extends an arm to Arya, but she refuses to take it. Instead she starts to walk and he follows. “To what do I owe this pleasure King Rayne?”
“I’ve received word that the Summer Court, Winter Court and Spring Court are all conspiring to move against you,” he informs her.
Arya didn’t put it past Kahlem to wage war against her. She made a move against him that would undoubtedly put his future in jeopardy. “Kahlem’s an arse and I knew the Princess was jealous, but Asherah…what quarrel does she and the Spring Court have with me?”
“None. But now that Malich is King of the Winter Court, and Kahlem holds his leash, Asherah will back up her nephew no matter what,” Ihsan explains.
Fixing her eyes on him she asks. “What of the Unseelie Court, the Fall Court and the Autumn Court? I assume you’re not here to deliver news best passed through other means.”
“You have our support, for whatever that’s worth, the support of the Fall Court as long as you allow them to lay siege to the Winter Court once this war is over, and the Autumn Court is…undecided.”
“Undecided? Any way to help tip the odds in our favor?”
“I’ve met with the Autumn Court and its run by Queen Yari Boleyn. She’s a young Queen of fifteen Cycles, and she wields her Kingdom like a toy. Her biggest strength is her armies, her taste for all things blood and gore, and her advisor Penki. Penki will instruct her to hold out to see who has the better offer and the better odds.”
Arya chews pensively on her bottom lip. Malich is now King of the Winter Court, which means he now has three kingdoms under his control. He has the Redlands, the Winter Court, and the Spring Court. Three Kingdoms Kahlem will use to bury her. Soon she’ll have to kill friend and foe alike if she can’t find a way out of this.
“I needn’t explain how much of a threat Malich poses,” Arya thinks aloud.
“Perhaps if we can find whatever leverage his brother’s have over him and get rid of it,” Evander suggests. Lumi seconds his thought.
Taking a deep breath Arya confides, “Kahlem has his mother. He released his father to him once Malich held up his end of the bargain and married the Winter Princess. That’s why Malich requested my presence. Kahlem rendered their father incapacitated with an injection of darkbane into his brain. Only light power from a powerful lightbearer could destroy it. I presume his mother is suffering a similar fate, only I doubt Malich knows where she is. If he did he’d tell his brothers to go fuck themselves and they’d be going to war instead. As long as Kahlem holds his mother hostage, Malich won’t move against him. He’ll be coming after us.”
They all took deep breaths. The full gravity of the situation meant there would be a lot of useless bloodshed. “The Red Legion is one of the most powerful forces within the planes,” Ihsan sighs.
“Yes, but if anyone can rival them it would be the army of the Fall Court. You should have seen them in action. If I hadn’t come to Malich’s rescue they would’ve laid siege to the Winter Court.”
“Yes, but that wasn’t the full might of the Red Legion. What you saw was a single granule of sand compared to his full army. We’re talking half a million soldiers Arya. With all of our forces combined, we can put up a valiant effort, but we’ll need more than that if we plan to walk away from this.” Ihsan sounds hopeful.
“How did you come across this information?” Arya asks, curiously.
“Malich sent it to him,” Alara calls out from behind them.
Ihsan blanches when he sees Alara and unsheathes his sword in the blink of an eye. His guards follow suit. The last time he saw her she’d flung them bothoff that cliff. “Anan’s cock!” He gasps, “What is she doing here?”
“It’s a long story,” Arya sighs, “But lets just say her particular gifts have come in quite handy.”
Ihsan tears his gaze away from her to stare at Arya in wild-eyed bewilderment. “How can you even trust her after what she did to you?”
“Perhaps a conversation for a later time,” Arya gives him a warning glance.
Sighing heavily, he tries his best to ignore the girl who’d sentenced them both to death. The one he swore to kill if he ever saw her again. There are bigger more pressing matters to contend with.
“Kill me later,” Alara tells him, “Right now, you need to listen. I see a battle and blood at the point where all of the Courts meet. I see Malich, his brothers, and his Aunt on one side, with you, Arya and King Volc on the other. Beyond that, I don’t see anything so I can’t tell you how this ends. If Kahlem succeeds in wooing the young Queen to his cause, it will mean the end of the rest of us. You mustwin the Autumn Court.”
“Why would Kahlem start a war with us?” Arya asks.
“He knows there will always be doubt about his right to rule as long as Malich lives. The only way to solidify his reign is to rule it all. Right now Malich has three Kingdoms at his disposal, while Kahlem has one. He wishes to even the playing field,” Alara explains. “And his beloved wife Sen has died a horrific death. A death he believes you orchestrated.”
“Sen is dead?” Alara nods.
“Good. I never liked that woman,” Arya replies. “What of her child?”
Arya exchanges glances with Evander.
“He already has. He’s got Malich by the balls,” Ihsan speaks.
“Yes, but for how long?” Evander asks. “Even with Malich subdued he still poses a threat.”
“He wants it all,” Arya realizes. “He doesn’t just want to rule this plane, he wants to rule them all. Everything he’s done so far has just been an accumulation of power, including subduing Malich. Malich posed the biggest threat and now that he’s been neutralized…”
“Anan help us,” Evander gasps.
“That doesn’t make any sense. Malich has one of the largest and most skilled armies, but Arya youare the biggest threat,” Ihsan thinks out loud. “He needs Malich and his army because they pose the greatest threat to you.”
“He’s right,” Alara stares off into space, her eyes darting to and fro as if she’s reading some invisible manuscript.
A knot forms in Arya’s throat. “He’s planning to use Malich against me. He wants us to kill each other off.”
“And he knew Malich would never lift a finger against you unless he could be forced,” Lumi gasps.
“The leverage.” Alara adds.
“If I kill Malich, his army will finish what he started and wipe us out. And if Malich succeeds in killing me, Kahlem won’t simply let him walk away. Malich’s army will be smaller in numbers and easier to manage. Kahlem won’t risk his own soldiers in battle. He doesn’t have to. Malich’s army alone will be enough, and this war will weaken us both at the same time. When the dust clears and the blood of our soldiers saturate the soil, Kahlem will kill Malich.” Arya realizes. “He’ll have it all.”
Several men come rushing into the palace bloody and panting. “Your majesty, please forgive us, but we were ambushed just outside of our territory. They’re soldiers from the Red King and they took everything we have. They’re amassing an army at the border between the Summer Court and Seelie Court.”
“And so it’s begun,” Alara gasps.ns 22.214.171.124da2