The next thing I remembered was a cool compress on my forehead. The angry, morning sun beat down on my shoulders and prickled my skin.
“There she is,” said a soft, familiar voice. My eyes were heavy with sleep and sorrow. I blinked up at Mari’s kind, somber face, her mass of red curls looming above me. I sat up slowly, head pounding, and realized we were still on the deck of the ship. By the sun’s place in the sky, I guessed I had been out for hours.
I turned to look out at the sea, letting the salt spray across my face.
Peridot was long behind us. There was no land for miles.
I couldn’t even think of it. What I had done. What I had lost.
“Nobody is following us,” I said, instead.
“After your… episode,” she paused as if trying to get her wording right. “There was nobody left to follow us. None of King Ravenwood’s witches from the capital are here, so I found a spell to cloak the ship. When they gather their armies back together, at least we’ll be untraceable.”
I nodded, numb.
I was not going to ask about Kane. Whether he was on this ship or—
“So,” she said, removing the cool compress and soaking it again. “You’re a Faerie. You could have told me, you know.” I could hear the hurt in her voice.
“She didn’t know.”
I looked up, squinting into direct sunlight. The voice belonged to Ryder, who had Leigh by the hand. She was stone-faced.
I had never seen her expression so cold.
“How are you a true Fae, and neither of us are? We had the same mother,” he asked. He, too, was graver than I had ever seen him before. That endless light that shone inside him regardless of circumstance was gone.
“I don’t know,” I said. It came out like a plea.
I stood up with Mari’s help and walked toward him steadily. When I knew neither would flinch, I wrapped them in a hug.
We stayed like that for a long while.
Even though we had different fathers, I had never felt like they were my half-siblings.
I had never known my father and my mother had never spoken of him in my childhood. At last, I had pried it out of her just two years ago. She told me she had met a man from another kingdom, which one she couldn’t recall, in a tavern outside of Abbington.
She was drowning her sorrows over the recent loss of her own mother, and he had lifted her spirits and taken her dancing. The next morning, she woke up in his cottage and he was gone.
She never saw him again.
I hated to think of my father that way, so I didn’t think of him much at all.
Even as I wracked my brain, I knew it wasn’t possible that the man could have been responsible for what I was.
I was the last full-blooded Fae. Both my parents had to be full-blooded Fae. Which meant either my mother had hidden her Fae nature from us our whole lives, or she wasn’t really my mother.
My siblings were now my only living family, the closest people I had left, and odds were, I wasn’t related to either of them at all. That coupled with the gaping hole deep in my heart at the loss of my mother and the realization that she wasn’t really the woman who had given birth to me was enough to break whatever spirit I had left.
Despite our embrace, I had never felt so far away from them, and we had just spent months apart. I hated what I now knew I was, so foreign and removed I hardly felt like myself.
But most of all, I hated Kane. I wasn’t sure where he was—I told myself I didn’t care if he had survived the battle with his father.
Why should I?
I pulled away from my siblings and looked out across the too-bright deck. A few soldiers were tending to the wounded, but it seemed most everyone else had gone below.
The stomps of petite footsteps from the captain’s quarters echoed across the deck, breaking me from my somber thoughts.
“Ghastly cowards, that’s what we are!”
I spun to see Amelia, Eryx, Griffin, and Barney make their way onto the deck in succession.
I couldn’t tell if it was grief or fear or relief that twisted my stomach.
Each of their gazes lingered on me. Amelia cold as ice, King Eryx with vague interest, Barney’s sympathy, Griffin unreadable as always. A flicker of shame sparked deep in my chest at their prying eyes, but I was too numb, too exhausted to really feel it.
“Amelia, we had no choice.” King Eryx turned back to his daughter. “We had to survive.”
Amelia whirled to face him. “We left our people to suffer.” She practically spit the words.
“We got some out on the other ships, they—” “I got them out. You just ran like a—”
“More importantly,” he enunciated right over her. “We lived to fight another day.”
“And where will we go now? Just keep running?” she asked, bitterness coating her voice.
King Eryx looked to Griffin, but he didn’t respond. Instead, Griffin turned to the bow of the ship.
Like a dark and vengeful demon of death, Kane stepped out from the shadows.
“We sail for the Kingdom of Citrine.” He was alive.
I thought I heard my heart crack open.
He looked wrecked. Gashes covered his arms and neck, one eye was blackened and sealed shut, and his lip was split. His chest wound was haphazardly wrapped under his open, billowing shirt, but bright red blood was seeping through the makeshift bandages.
Kane’s focus landed on me immediately. His eyes flickered with concern.
I pulled my gaze from his, and settled on the briny, bottomless water across from me.
“We have no way of sending ravens to let them know we are coming, King Ravenwood,” King Eryx said to him.
“We’ll just have to hope they welcome us with open arms.”
A dark laugh barked out of Griffin at the sentiment. “They won’t.” “I know,” Kane said with lethal calm.
He passed the group of them and approached me tentatively. When I couldn’t avoid his eyes anymore, I turned to him.
“How are you, bird?” His face was a mask of regret, but his voice was like a spirit—for an instant, relieving, even pleasurable, before turning bitter on my tongue.
“Don’t speak to me,” I said. Even if this wasn’t all his fault, I was so emotionally destroyed it had to fall on someone. He seemed more deserving than most.
Ryder stepped in front of me protectively, arms folded. “Give us a moment, Ryder.” Kane really did look brutal.
Ryder looked to me, and I shook my head vehemently. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the man.
“I don’t think so, Your Majesty,” Ryder said with as much courtesy as he could muster. Kane paused, then nodded his understanding.
“I am so sorry for your loss,” Kane said to all three of us. Leigh wouldn’t even look him in the eye.
He walked toward the left side of the deck. I looked at Ryder and then to Mari. Neither met my eyes. I knew what they were thinking. I had to talk to him eventually. The ship was only so big.
“Let’s go inside, I need some food,” Mari said. Ryder followed her,
looking back at me once.
I kissed Leigh on the head and pulled together what little strength I had left. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Griffin, Eryx, Amelia, and the rest of the guards and soldiers on deck had moved to the bow of the ship to continue their argument.
Maybe they sensed the onslaught of tension between Kane and me and didn’t want to be anywhere near us. I wouldn’t blame them. Besides a few stragglers, Kane and I were the only two left on this side. I met him where he stood, the wind battering his hair. He was closing his eyes to the sun.
Sensing my presence, he turned to me, but I could only stare at the ocean below us. The briny smell of kelp and salt fit my stormy mood. We stood in silence, listening to the waves crash against the ship for far too long.
“I’m the last full-blooded Fae,” I stated. He stilled, but answered me. “Yes.”
My heart thumped violently. I knew it was true, but it still shook my very bones to hear him say it.
“Griffin is Fae too.” “He is.”
My cheeks burned. Griffin, Dagan, Amelia—how many had known what I was before I did?
“And you’re both Fae that can shift,” I said. “You’re the dragon that flew me to Shadowhold that first night?”
“Yes,” he said, and still he faced the churning sea. “And the Blade of the Sun? From the prophecy?”
He turned toward me. His eyes awash with… was it misery? Searing regret? But he hid it as quickly as I had noticed, and tensed his jaw.
“It’s what Halden wanted that had already been stolen from my vault years ago—the only weapon that can kill Lazarus, when wielded by you.” He swallowed hard. “He likely came to Shadowhold looking to murder Fae defectors, but somehow heard the blade was in my possession. Truth is, it could be anywhere.”
My heartbeat pounded in my ears. “I thought it was ‘in my heart?’ That’s what the prophecy said.”
“Most scholars I’ve consulted think that’s not to be interpreted literally. But let’s not discuss it with Amelia. She’s all too game to cut you open and check.” The look in his eyes was murderous, and I could tell he wasn’t joking.
“So, I’m a true Fae, like you said.” The words still felt insane to me. “How does a halfling like you have lighte?”
“I’m not a halfling. Halflings are just mortals with trace ancestral amounts of Fae lineage. It’s barely noticeable if you don’t know what to look for. Often, they’re strikingly beautiful, very strong, or live unnaturally long lives. There are only two kinds of Faeries. Fae—Griffin, myself, all the soldiers, all those trapped in the Fae Realm. We all have some mortal lineage from millennia of crossbreeding. The other kind are True Fae, or full-blooded Fae—only you, and Lazarus.”
“But how? I was born in Abbington, my mother was mortal,” I was babbling. “My siblings are all—”
“We aren’t sure.”
Horror struck me. “Could you and I be… related?”
A grim smile crossed his face. “No, bird. You were born long after the last full blooded Fae female passed on. Your birth is—well, it’s a miracle. One even my father doesn’t understand.”
“So Halden… his mission wasn’t just to hunt down any Fae. He had been looking for…”
“For you, yes. The Fae from the prophecy.” Horror struck me like a slap.
He would have killed me in those stables.
Kane stepped closer and I braced myself. “Arwen, I am so, so sorry. For everything. All that I kept from you. For letting him find you.” The pained grimace on his face told me what he knew could have happened on the beach had he not shifted in time.
My lungs tightened. The air trapped inside of them burned. I reminded myself to exhale. “Maybe I should have known all along,” I said. “I never
understood my abilities, or why they would dissipate after I used too much.” I thought of the night I couldn’t heal myself after helping the chimera. “Dagan. Did you ask him to train me?”
“As a young man, he was my kingsguard for many years in the Fae Realm until the rebellion. When we came to Onyx he retired. But there is nobody better on the continent to train you, both with your sword and your lighte.”
The way Dagan had known about my abilities, and where I could draw power from. He too had lied to me. Anger and humiliation and hopelessness warred inside of me. How had I been so blind all along? Amelia had been right. I had been such a fool.
“You told me you had never lied to me. You promised you had told me everything.” I couldn’t help turning to face him. I studied his slate-gray eyes, as they welled with anguish. “I deserved to know, Kane.”
He looked a moment away from breaking. He reached for me, but thought better of it and tucked his hand back into his pocket. “I couldn’t risk anyone else knowing. Anyone having another reason to hurt you. Lazarus’ entire army has been looking for the last full-blooded fae that could spell his death for nearly a century.”
“Bullshit. You needed to use me as a weapon. You knew if you told me all of this—what defeating Lazarus meant for me, for my…” I swallowed. “My fate—that I would never help you achieve your vengeance.”
The word was bitter on my tongue. Kane had the audacity to look shaken, but said nothing.
Hatred funneled through me. He would not see me cry. I tucked my shaking hands into fists.
“How long did you know what I was before I did?” I asked, my voice rough and low.
He ran a hand through his hair. “Bert realized you were who we had been looking for the night you healed Barney. When I flew you to my keep, there was a light in you that couldn’t be anything but Fae.” I remembered the ride. The strange connection I had felt with him in his dragon form.
“For almost a hundred years I have woken up each morning with one
thought. Just one. Find the last full-blooded Fae. Fulfill the prophecy. Kill my father. I lost the people that meant the most to me at his hand. So did Dagan and Griffin. The day we rallied against him, I let them down and we all suffered for it.”
My heart skipped two beats. Dagan’s family? Lazarus was the one who killed them?
“If I don’t finish what we started, none of their sacrifices are worth anything. Still to this day, millions live enslaved in a wasteland because of him. You thought you knew what a cruel king looked like, but you have no idea, Arwen. None. Every mortal on this continent will die a senseless death if he isn’t stopped.
“And yet, even knowing all of that. That day we raced,” a sorrowful smile crossed his face, “you were like a gazelle. I was so enchanted by you. I had never met anyone like you. The night you were attacked—” I faced him, unable to look away any longer. “I knew I couldn’t go through with it. Not even for the good of all of Evendell. I brought you and your family here to live the rest of your lives in safety.”
My heart was shattering.
“Do you hear me?” Unable to hold himself back a minute longer, Kane finally reached a frantic hand toward me. “I was willing to sacrifice the entire world to keep you alive!”
“Don’t touch me.” I pulled away and turned back to the relentless ocean beneath us. Despite my promise to myself, a single tear slipped down my cheek.
“I tried to take the choice away from you, and for that I am sorry. But I will die before I let him have you. You have to know that.”
Power rippled off him in waves at his oath. But I wasn’t afraid of him. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid to die. Afraid to live. Afraid of the power that roiled inside of me. A thick fog of despair invaded every sense— suffocating me. Trapping me within this new reality.
Because of him.
I could have lived my whole life and never known of my fate. I didn’t have to die.
But now I knew I was the only one that could kill Lazarus, and if he died, I would as well. It was all information I could have gone my whole life without.
And now, there was no other choice.
“I will help you end this war. We can find the Blade of the Sun, and I’ll plunge it through his heart. We will save all of the people Lazarus intends to kill, save the Fae realm, avenge those you lost, Dagan, Griffin, everyone. We’ll finish what you started, Kane.”
“No,” he said, his voice breaking. “I refuse to lose you. I—” “It’s not your choice.”
“You’ve made enough choices for me.”
A bluster blew his hair across his chiseled face—vulnerable in a way I had never seen before. I almost folded into him. Almost.
But instead, I stepped back.
And took a deep breath of saltwater and rain-soaked air.
“Maybe before, I would have caved. Forgiven you out of fear of being alone. Done whatever you told me I should. I would have felt that I needed you, especially knowing what horrors were to come. But now… You lied to me. Used me. You—” I steeled myself. “I can’t be with you like that, Kane. Not anymore.”
“Please,” he said. It was almost a whisper.
I shook my head. I was breaking, twisting apart. My mother was gone, the man I—
It didn’t matter now.
He wiped his eyes. “As you wish.” And with that, he crossed the deck and slipped below to the galley.
I turned my attention back to the waves ahead of me. The rough blue water was a tempo I couldn’t follow, chaotic and choppy—swaying in a strange dance under the ship’s bow. The sight was more beautiful than I had realized.
I had been wrong before. It was not a cruel world. Or it was, but it was also wonderful.
I had seen more beauty, joy, and hope in the past few months than I thought existed. And there was so much more out there. There were so many people, so much love, and so much possibility. I couldn’t let it be snuffed out by one man, Fae or otherwise.
I could do this, for Evendell. For my family. For Mari. For all the innocent Fae and mortals alike. I could find this blade. Fight this battle alongside the man who had thoroughly shattered my heart. I could be strong.
It was a world I had to save, even if I wouldn’t live to see it.