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Chapter no 5

Daughter of the Siren Queen

THE DUNGEONS ARE LOCATED deep below the earth. They wind and twist as though formed from the pathway of a monstrous worm. The smell of mold clogs my nostrils, and the dank moisture in the air presses uncomfortably against my skin. Some of the tunnels slide right down into the sea and allow in water. With the tides, some of the cells fill to the brim. An added benefit when it comes to making prisoners talk.

Threck is the keeper of the dungeons. He’s a gaunt fellow who perpetually looks like he’s climbed his way out of a land dweller’s grave. Dirt paints his clothes and skin, and he lets his hair hang about him in matted snarls. But the fact that he’s absolutely terrified of me makes him amusing nonetheless.

Right now, however, there is very little that I find amusing.

I pound on the entrance to the dungeons, a large wooden door with a barred window.

“Threck!” I call out. “The king’s sent me to question the new prisoner.” A lie.

I sent myself.

The dungeons are massive, but my shout carries in a much-too-loud echo from one tunnel to the next. After the sound dies down, silence is the only thing that bounces back up to me for several moments, and I wonder if he will pretend he didn’t hear me. But he’s too smart for that. The last thing you want to do is irritate someone who frightens you.

A slow shuffling sound makes its way toward me, growing louder and louder until I can tell the footsteps are just on the other side of the door. The barred window allows me to see to the other side, but Threck must be ducking because I can’t see his head.

A key slides under the door, and footsteps retreat in a hurry.

It’s difficult to say whether I’m more proud or offended by his reaction to me.

I grab a torch from its sconce on the wall and light it. There is a darkness unlike any other in the keep’s dungeon. No natural light can squeeze its way so far below ground. It sucks all the hope from the prisoners trapped in here. I should know—I’ve been one many times.

Threck doesn’t seem to mind it, however. He knows the dungeons so well he traverses them without any light at all.

I slide past row upon row of empty cells. They’re never occupied for long. When I reach one of the few cells in use, I pause.

“Draxen.”

Jeskor’s elder son doesn’t move at the sound of his own name. He sits on the stone floor and stares at the wall opposite the cell’s entrance. Like his brother, Draxen has changed some. Only his changes are for the worse. His black hair hangs past his shoulders in ratted curls. His shirt is too big for him. It hangs off his bony shoulders and pools on the floor behind him. That’ll be from the prisoner diet of cold gruel. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, a rat will wander into your cell.

Princess,” he says and spits off into the corner. I can see now he has a rock in his hand that he’s throwing up in the air and catching. You’ve got to pass the time somehow. I would button and unbutton my coat. When my hands weren’t shackled above my head, that is.

“Nice weather we’re having,” I say as I shiver from the cold. How can Draxen stand not to have his coat on? It looks like he’s using it as a cushion under his rump.

“What do you want?” he asks.

“Nothing from you. I’m just passing through.” “Then get on with it.”

“I didn’t realize you were busy.”

He turns at the snide remark and chucks the rock at me. I dodge it as best I can in the darkness, but it still skims the side of my arm.

“Stings, that does, you bastard,” I say. “To hell with you and your sorcery.” “Sorcery?”

“You did something to me. And to Riden. You’ve bewitched him somehow. And you nearly killed him. So whether you call it sorcery or not, you can go hang by a rope from the tallest tree.”

I laugh. It’s not a mockery, but a sincere response to his foolishness. “You’re furious with me? You do remember you kidnapped me? You forced me to witness the most disgusting tortures I’ve ever seen. You tried to force yourself on me, and your men tried to kill me. All I did was steal a map.”

Despite his foul attitude, I dig into my pocket and throw something at him. I make sure it hits him in the back of the head before continuing on.

I hear his hands scramble furiously in the darkness to retrieve what I threw. Then the sound of his chewing is so loud, I hear it for the next twenty feet.

Fresh bread from the kitchens. I don’t know what prompted me to bring it for him, but I did.

Now, for the reason I’m really here.

Vordan’s cell is tucked into a nasty corner where the tide comes in.

Water reaches his ankles. He must be freezing.

Good.

I hate him. I hate that I’m here.

“Alosa,” he says when he notices me. Just the tone makes me cringe. The satisfied, self-assured way he manages to say it even when locked behind bars.

“Tell me more,” I whisper, even though I know we’re alone. “What? I didn’t catch that?”

“Tell. Me. More.”

“About what?” he asks, toying with me.

I snap. My voice rushes out like a thunderclap. I burry him under a mountain of snow, let him feel a cold so piercing he’ll forget there was ever anything else to feel. I push him from the tallest cliff, let him fall and fall,

hurtling down at an impossible speed, knowing he’s about to die and there’s no way to stop it. I thrust him back into his cell, make the walls rattle as the volcano nearby explodes and blistering heat drowns him. On and on, I throw terror after terror at him.

He’s shaking by the time I stop, his breathing shallow.

I tamp down my rage enough to say, “I can still hurt you, Vordan. Tell me what you know or we can keep at this. I’m not feeling particularly patient today, so cut the snark.”

It takes him a full minute to find his voice. “You”—deep breath—“you are a monster.”

“And you’ve made the monster angry. Start talking.” “I don’t—I don’t know anything else.”

I open my mouth.

“I swear it!” he shouts.

I cock my head to the side.

“My man didn’t take anything out of the king’s study. He could only tell me what he saw. Some sort of device and a note in Kalligan’s own writing, depicting what it does. You already know I’m not lying about it. I’ve told the truth while under your abilities.”

I’m more frustrated than before. I can’t trust my enemy over my own father.

But after what Father did, threatening to take out my eye because my voice would still work without it—

He’s only under pressure from the upcoming voyage. He wouldn’t really do it.

But have you ever known him to make an idle threat?

How can I question him? After everything he’s done for me? You mean the beatings and imprisonment?

No! He raised me. He trained me. He made me unstoppable. He made you his loyal pet.

I growl.

“You!” I snap at Vordan. “You put these thoughts in my head.”

He raises himself up to his full, unimpressive height, one of his legs bent awkwardly behind him. “I could not create doubt where there wasn’t

already a seed planted.” That’s it.

Enough of this.

There’s only one way to get rid of the uncertainty once and for all.

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