The Everafter Wish, Page 2Rachel Morgan
“I’m sorry. I didn’t even realize it was a lie until I couldn’t force the word out of my mouth. I … I guess I’m not?” He turned away from the security guard and muttered, “That was not something I wanted to admit out loud. I’m supposed to be …” He shook his head, pressing his lips together.
“What, all macho and tough and afraid of nothing?” Elle joked quietly.
“Yeah, exactly,” he responded with a half smile.
Before Elle could say anything else, the man with the suit and the earpiece stepped back out and said, “Excuse me, your highness. His majesty will see you now.”
Dex turned back to the door, placed an arm around Elle’s lower back, and ushered her forward. Elle took a steadying breath as they stepped into the next room. Her brain registered a vague impression of a richly furnished study—dark wood furniture, thick curtains and loads of books—but most of her attention fell immediately on the man who stood behind the desk. He walked around it, stopped a few paces away, and folded his arms over his chest as he regarded them.
Elle already knew what King Belaric of House Belmont looked like. She’d seen him occasionally on TV. But he seemed taller and far more imposing in person, as if his mere presence took up most of the space in the room. His hair was lighter than Dex’s, but the two of them shared the same jawline and eye color—though the king’s lacked the warmth and kindness Elle often saw in Dex’s gaze.
“Chevalier,” the king said. “I hope you have a good explanation for your recent disappearance.” His eyes fell on Elle, though it was still his son he spoke to when he added, “And your insistence upon appearing before me in the company of this human instead of alone.”
“I do have a very good explanation, sir,” Dex said, and for a moment, the only thing Elle could focus on was the fact that Dex called his father ‘sir.’ An image of her own father—whom she couldn’t imagine having ever called ‘sir’—crossed her mind before she blinked and refocused on the king. “We’ve discovered something,” Dex continued. “Something huge. Something that will change everything for humans—for all the High Races, in fact, since it will change the way society views humans and interacts with them.”
The king’s eyes narrowed. “I doubt it.”
“It’s magic, sir,” Dex said, his voice alight with passion. “Humans can obtain magic. Hundreds of years ago, it was a normal way of life. Humans can go on a quest, and at the end of it, they walk away with magic. We can’t enslave them. They’re our equals.” He looked at Elle and gave her an encouraging nod. “Show him.”
Elle raised her hands, afraid that at this moment, when she really needed it to, her newfound magic would refuse to appear. But her heart was pounding so fast, her body so on edge, that glittering silver dust rushed all the way up to her elbows before she’d finished lifting her hands. She inhaled sharply, unable to keep her amazement from spreading a smile across her face. She was certain it would awe her every single time it happened, no matter how long she lived.
She looked up at the king, and her smile faded at the sight of his face. Aside from a slight twist to his lips, his expression had barely changed. No shock. No surprise. No wonder. “You already know,” Elle said, the truth of her own words sinking into her bones. The king didn’t answer, but his expression was enough to tell her she was right.
“Wait. You knew about this?” Dex demanded.
“Of course I knew,” his father replied. “I went through all our archives years ago. I discovered the document that refers to the humans’ quest for magic. I sent a human with three companions to the Never Woods to find out if it was true. They survived. The human returned with magic, proving that what I’d read was true. I killed all four of them immediately.”
“What?” Elle gasped. “How could you do that? Whether you like humans or not, you can’t change the fact that we’re your equals. How could you ignore the truth once you knew it? How can you continue to—”
“I will do whatever I must to preserve our way of life. To protect the legacy of the fae. Our race has worked hard to be where it is today. I won’t let anyone take that from us.”
“We don’t want to take anything from—”
“Silly girl,” the king spat. “You’re naive if you think that. Everyone wants power. Shifters are too weak to take it, vampires are currently trying to take it, and humans—if they all obtained the power you now have—would try to take it too.”
“But trying to contain this information is pointless,” Dex said. A deep frown furrowed his brow. “The secret is already out. There are vampires who know. You saw them all with magic at the ball. They discovered they can take it from humans after humans have been through the quest, and now that there are so many of them who know—and there were all those witnesses at the ball who have no doubt been asking questions ever since—”
“The vampires who attacked me at the ball are dead,” the king interrupted, “and I will wipe the rest of them from the face of the planet. Of course, a few will remain who know the truth, but that’s nothing new. There have always been some who know. It’s never been enough to make any difference. Just as it makes no difference that guests of our masquerade ball might be asking questions. Someone will probably come up with the theory that it’s possible for vampires to take magic from fae blood after all.”
“But everyone knows that’s not true,” Elle said.
“It’s easier to believe than humans with magic,” the king countered.
She pushed her shoulders back and tilted her chin up. “Not after I show them what I can do.”
The king’s expression turned pitying. “You don’t honestly think you’ll be leaving this palace alive, do you?”
“Dad!” Dex exclaimed.
“Don’t pretend to be so shocked,” his father said with a sigh. “You know I can’t let her live.”
Dex moved to shield Elle with his body. “Don’t even think about—”
“Restrain him,” the king said, his gaze directed behind Elle and Dex. Suddenly there were four men in suits surrounding Dex, magic zapping away from them and tugging Dex’s hands behind his back. “I’m sorry, Chevalier, but this is for the best,” the king said as Dex was dragged toward the edge of the room. “You’ll come to understand in time. If the Darkness doesn’t take you soon, that is.”
The Darkness … Of course, the king didn’t know yet that Dex had been healed. But Elle had no time to contemplate whether blurting this out would make things better or worse because the king was advancing toward her. “Wait,” she said, stumbling backward. “You can’t just kill me.”
“I’m the king,” he said, raising his hands. “I can do whatever I want.” His magic was like the golden sparks of a fire dancing amid black smoke. It rushed toward her with the sound of flapping wings, blocking out Dex’s cries and smothering Elle instantly. It enveloped her in darkness. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, and she knew that this was the end.
The darkness cleared, and Elle blinked at the light. Was this the After? Was death so quick and painless? But when she blinked again and turned her head, she realized she was on the floor of the king’s study. Still awake, still alive. And the black smothering magic was gone. She sat up just as the king appeared right in front of her. He snatched hold of her arm and glared at her wrist. “So. You have the Godmother’s protection. That’s inconvenient.” He shoved her arm away and stepped back. “I suppose you’ll have to spend the remainder of your days in prison then.”
“W-what protection?” Elle stuttered, looking down at her arm. On the inside of her wrist was a symbol, as pale as a scar. An S-shaped curve with three lines and a loop. The symbol Elle had traced into the dust on her window the night she’d summoned the Godmother. “When … I don’t remember …”
“Take her away,” the king commanded. Another two men appeared—were there legions of these dark-suited men simply waiting within earshot to be summoned by the king?—and lifted Elle swiftly to her feet. “And be sure to restrain her with mag
“Stop!” Dex shouted, struggling against the four who held him in place while the two newcomers attached a pair of glowing gold manacles to Elle’s wrists. “Get your hands off her!”
“Don’t fight them,” his father said calmly, walking back around his desk. “You’ll only end up hurt, and it’s probably not a good idea to exacerbate your condition.”
“What do you think this is going to accomplish?” Dex cried. “I know the truth. Others know the truth. Soon everyone will know. The National Council won’t let you—”
“No one will know a thing,” King Belaric said as the two men dragged Elle toward the door. “I have kept the truth from spreading before, and I will do so again. This secret will remain buried forever.”
Then Elle was swept away through the antechamber, her mind racing through all the terrible threats the king might currently be making in order to ensure his son’s silence. She kicked and struggled until eventually she managed to land an elbow in the ribs of the man on her left. She was rewarded with a heavy grunt in response—before light flashed across her vision and pain struck her head. The world became black for several seconds before color slowly returned. Whether intentionally or by accident, she hadn’t been completely knocked out.
Her surroundings became a blur of hallways, staircases, broad metal doors and sliding, mechanical gates. The light around her grew dimmer, and when she was eventually thrown onto a cold, hard floor, it seemed for several long moments that she was in complete darkness. Even the glowing gold manacles around her wrists were gone. But as she blinked and her eyes slowly adjusted to the low light, she made out crisscrossing bars, a simple bed, and shapes that roughly resembled a basin and toilet.
Pushing herself up and squinting further into the dim light produced by a single bulb hanging outside her cell, Elle realized there were no walls separating her from the neighboring cells, only more metal bars, scratched and discolored. The air smelled damp and stale, and she wondered just how long—decades? Centuries?—this part of the palace had existed. It was a world away from the glittering hallways she’d been dragged through just minutes before.
“Hello?” a voice called.
Elle stood hastily, regretting the quick movement a moment later when renewed pain throbbed through her skull. She turned, seeking the source of the voice.
“This side,” the voice said, and Elle turned again. The owner of the voice, a woman, materialized from the shadows of the cell on Elle’s right. Dressed in ragged, dirty clothes—no prison uniform—she moved slowly toward the bars. “Hello,” she said again. “What’s your name?”
Without answering, Elle moved a little closer to the bars. There was something about the woman’s voice that struck a bell in her memory. She took another step forward.
“Don’t touch the bars,” the woman said. “They don’t look it, but they’re enchanted. They’ll zap you and shove you backward. The main reason is so you can’t throw magic at the guards, but the charm also reacts to your touch. Although …” She tilted her head a little. “It doesn’t look like you’re fae, so you probably won’t be tossing any magic around.”
The bell somewhere deep in Elle’s memory jangled louder. Though she couldn’t place it, she’d definitely heard that voice before. The woman came to a stop on the other side of the bars, and Elle moved forward yet another step. Through the dim light and dark shadows, she finally saw the woman’s face. It was covered in smudges of dirt and framed by blond hair that was straggly and limp, but it was still instantly recognizable. Elle had known this face as a child. She’d seen it countless times in her parents’ photo album, and again, only days ago, on Dex’s phone.
Four security guards shoved Dex into a chair in front of his father’s desk and stepped away. He sat awkwardly, his hands still bound by magic behind his back, as his father lowered himself into the chair on the other side of the desk. “I cannot believe you would put our country—the entire world, for that matter—at risk for a simple girl.”
“The entire world?” Dex repeated. “That’s a massive overreaction. And don’t speak about Elle like—”
“Have you forgotten what happened to your grandmother? Have you forgotten what happened last weekend at the ball? It’s far too dangerous for any other race to have the same kind of power we have. If all humans in the world end up with magic, they will destroy us.”
“No they won’t! Most humans are not interested in destroying anyone. They just want to be—”
“YES THEY ARE!” The king brought his fist down on the desk. “You don’t know anything. You have stupid ideas about all High Races coexisting peacefully, but that will never be the case. There will always be people who want to take what we’ve worked so hard for. I was hoping you’d eventually get your head out of the clouds and understand this simple truth, but you’ll probably be dead before that happens.”
Dex flinched. For a second or two, he couldn’t say a word. Then he opened his mouth to tell his father he was no longer sick, but the king spoke again before Dex could utter a word. “I’ve always hoped we’d find a way to cure the Darkness running through your blood, but now I wonder if your early death may be a blessing in disguise. You would only fail our people if you ended up ruling them. Our hope lies in the hands of the next generation, not with you. Which is why you will produce an heir before you succumb to the Darkness.”
Dex sat frozen, his mouth open but not a word able to pass his tongue. An ache formed at the back of his throat and behind his eyes. He blinked once before snapping his mouth shut. He would tell his father nothing. If the king preferred to believe his son would soon die, then that was the way it would stay. “May I be excused?” he asked, his voice tight. Elle was probably locked in one of the ancient prison cells far beneath the palace, and Dex needed to figure out exactly how to get down there—he’d never been allowed access before—and how to free her. He could worry about everything else afterwards.
“Yes, but only after we’ve discussed one final matter: your desire to spread the truth about the quest and the ability of humans to possess magic.”
Dex clenched his jaw, knowing that whatever came next wouldn’t be good.
“The human girl. You care for her.”
Dex’s heart began a slow descent toward his feet. He should never have revealed how much he cared about Elle. Of course his father would use it against him.
“If you breathe a word to anyone, I will kill her,” his father said slowly, deliberately, his ice-blue eyes unblinking. “I will find a way to get past the Godmother’s protection. The girl will die a slow and terrible death, and I will make you watch.”
For a moment, Dex wondered when his father had become the cruel man who sat before him now. When he cast his mind back to his childhood, he remembered a different father. One who was mostly serious, but who sometimes smiled and laughed. Someone who occasionally sought out his sons in the palace gardens so he could join in their games for a short while. When had the king begun to change? Was it before or after Dex’s grandmother’s death? Was it the moment he’d made a wish and been granted great power by the Godmother? Perhaps Dex and his brother weren’t the only ones who’d been touched by Darkness that day. Perhaps a different kind of darkness, slow and invisible—a darkness of the soul—had begun to corrupt the king after that wish was made.
“What if someone else spreads the truth?” Dex said. “There are others who know.”
“Well, then you’ll have to do everything in your power to silence those people. If I begin to hear rumors of this quest, it won’t matter exactly who started them. I’ll assume they can ultimately be traced back to you, and therefore I’ll have to take out my retribution on that poor human girl.”
Dex breathed out slowly. There was no point in arguing. “Will that be all?” he asked.
“Yes.” The king traced a quick pattern in the air, and with a brief burst of heat, Dex felt the magical bonds vanish from his wrists. Without another word, he
stood and walked out of the room. He crossed the antechamber, turned into a hallway—and almost walked straight into his mother.
“Chevalier!” Queen Amra exclaimed. Before he could utter a word, she tugged him closer and embraced him. It was so unexpected—his mother wasn’t prone to displays of affection—that all Dex could do was stand there. By the time his arms remembered how to work and started moving to return the embrace, his mother stepped away. “Where have you been?” she demanded. Wisps of dark hair had come loose from the tight knot that sat at the nape of her neck, and a grayish purple hue darkened the delicate skin beneath her eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Mom,” Dex said, his insides squirming uncomfortably with guilt. “It’s a long story.”
“Oliver and Alexander intimated it was because of a girl. Someone who’d tempted you to run away.”
Dex sighed. “I did not run away to be with a girl.”
“I assumed as much,” his mother responded, her tone still sharp. “You’ve been far too resistant to the whole idea of marriage to elope. But I had to consider there might be some dark magic at play. That perhaps someone bewitched you. Nobody could track you, Chevalier. Not with magic or technology. What was I supposed to think?”
“Nobody bewitched me, Mom. I’m fine. And I’m so sorry for worrying you. I didn’t know how much time had passed. I know that doesn’t make sense, but—”
“Well, at least you’re back now.” The queen patted his shoulders. “And you won’t be disappearing again. The party is this Saturday, and it is of the utmost importance. With only two days to go, and you still missing, I thought I’d have to cancel it. I’m relieved that’s no longer the case.”
Dex shook his head, confused by the sudden change of subject. “Party?”
“Yes.” His mother gave him the kind of look that suggested he should know exactly what she was talking about. “The smaller, more intimate affair your father asked me to organize, since the masquerade ball was such a disaster. I had hoped you would have found someone by now, but it seems some people don’t keep their promises, so this party is still necessary.”