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King Maker
Author: Audrey Grey

1

 

 

The tug of dark magick woke her.

Haven Ashwood clutched her chest. Her body thrummed as if a thousand panicked moths beat against the underside of her ribs. When the brush of powdery wings became the scrape of claws, she jolted into a sitting position.

Then, like the too-long, too-sharp fingernail of something ancient, the magick tapped against her breastbone.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Release me.

Rubbing her eyes, Haven slipped from her bed and through the silent halls of Fenwick Castle, drawn along by some invisible thread.

Moonlight seeped from the open windows. The silvery light danced across the iridescent runes that tattooed her stippled flesh, but the glow couldn’t chase away the dark shadows pooling against the stone walls.

A guard leaned against the wall. His eyes were sleepy as he stared into the closest candle, watching a handful of moths drown in the wax pool.

He didn’t even blink as she passed. Her magick ensured he couldn’t see her. She took a strange sort of pleasure in that, even as she begged him to notice.

To stop her.

He was blind to the inky-blue veins of light spilling from her flesh. Blind to the girl with magick wandering the castle at will, covered in nothing but a muslin nightgown.

Every door that creaked open beneath her palm left her feeling a bit more lost. What was she doing awake? Her gaze shifted to the dagger inside her hand. When did that get there?

Gnarled, twisted horns of molten silver formed the hilt, the dark handle cool and terrifying inside her palm. An eye watched her between the horns, the iris bright red like embers shifting inside a glass marble. The pupil was a slash of black, and it dilated in the shadows like a real eye.

When it blinked at her, something close to terror sparked inside her heart.

A frigid breeze drifted from the closest open window as she passed two sentries near an archway of winding pillars entwined with dahlias.

Her throat clenched.

The dark magick inside the hollow of her bones stretched out in anticipation, a primordial beast awakened from its slumber.

No.

Prince Bell’s room lay just beyond.

No.

Only she possessed the key to enter. She willed herself to turn around, go back to bed. To scream. To somehow alert the guards playing a game of runedice by his room. Instead she quietly unlocked the prince’s door and crossed the threshold, a startling sense of panic beginning.

No.

Arched windows ran the length of the chamber, the fragile light stifled by a set of drawn velvet curtains. The prince appeared tiny curled atop his four-poster bed. Gold sheets tangled around his legs. He was still wearing the silk socks that rode up to his slim calves.

No.

A figure rose by Bell’s headboard. The presence seemed formed from a tapestry of shadows, each layer smoky and nebulous and ever-changing. But behind that veil of churning darkness hid a sentience, an ancient, primordial evil that bled the air from the room and made her heart skitter sideways in her chest.

“Now,” the figure ordered. His voice slithered across the silence and into her skull.

The thin wool rug was soft against Haven’s feet as she obeyed, approaching the sleeping prince. The dagger was heavy in her hand. Strange runes flickered over the blade. The molten lines of red and blue disappearing as fast as they appeared.

No. No. No.

The muscles in her body fought to regain control. But the darkness was sewn into every pore, every crevice of her flesh; she was a puppet to its desires.

“What do you want?” she begged, fearing she already knew the answer.

“I want so many, many things,” the darkness whispered.

Squinting, she sifted through the inky smoke, trying to discern the thing inside. For there was no doubt now—it was a monster, a creature of unimaginable horrors.

“What do you want from me?”

“Obedience,” it purred. “Pledge your allegiance to me and I’ll make you a god among gods. They will all bow down to you, a mortal queen of unimaginable power, and no one would ever dare try to enslave you again.”

“Queen of what?” she hissed. “Nightmares?”

“Queen of everything.”

Terror wound its way through her ribs. “I don’t want to be a queen.”

“No? Your thoughts betray you. You crave power over men. You want to punish them for what they’ve done to you. Or would you allow yourself to be chained again, Rose?”

The former nickname lodged just below her heart, a splinter worming deeper with each breath.

But this wasn’t Damius, her former captor. This wasn’t anything human at all. Nor was it a Noctis.

It was something else. Something powerful enough to access her memories.

“Fear doesn’t work on me,” she growled, glaring into the black miasma. “Whoever you are, whatever you are, I will never obey you, or anyone. I am my own master.”

Laughter seeped from the black smoke, trickling along the stone walls until it pooled below her sternum. “Do you truly believe you can defy me? That you have a choice?”

“There’s always a choice.”

“How very naive of you. As long as the ancient magick of the Netherworld permeates your mortal blood, as long as that darkness wends through the hollows of your frail bones, you belong to me.”

“Liar.” But her voice was oh so soft.

“Watch and see.”

Terror constricted her heart as she witnessed her hand rise above Bell’s chest. The sharp edges of the double-sided blade glittered. Inside the steel she caught her reflection. Her eyes were black pits of nothing, of death.

Bell awoke with a start, his sleepy eyes widening as he took in her weapon, poised right above his heart. Despair settled in his face, and he whispered, “Don’t hurt me, Haven. Please.”

No, Goddess no. Not Bell.

She tried to fling the weapon from her fingers, but her body wasn’t obeying. The knife shook in her hand as she struggled against the force pushing down the blade. The hard muscles of her shoulder trembled; her teeth ground with the effort until her jaw popped.

The knife’s eye, the one that was the color of Netherfire, watched her. Willing her to drive its length into flesh and bone. She could feel its need for blood, for agony.

Feed me, it whispered. Drown me in blood.

And then something inside her snapped and the last frayed tether of control broke.

Gripping the dagger’s handle, she lifted the weapon high above the prince and then plunged the wicked blade into his chest.

 

 

2

 

 

Screams ripped Haven from the nightmare. Her screams.

Somewhere between last night and this morning, she had tumbled from her low-lying bed and was sprawled on the wooden floor of her bedchamber. A headache hammered at her skull.

Groaning, she pressed her thumbs into the tender spot just above her eyes. The pain was either from falling off the bed or, more likely, the infusion of honeymead, lilac, and clove she’d been taking to control her dark magick.

Bell had found mention of it once used by the Solis on Noctis prisoners. The foul potion was supposed to lessen her dark magick—but so far, all it seemed to do was give her migraines and leave a bitter taste in her mouth.

Someone hovered over Haven. As the sleep cleared from her vision, she made out dark button-eyes blinking down at her behind craggy cheeks and a frown. Without a word, Demelza dabbed Haven’s face with a wet washcloth, tsking beneath her breath.

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