Crimes of Magic
Dozens of creatures descended from the branches, attacking the officers. Tiny spears flew along with bombs of glittery substances. Gnomes broke out of brushes and began stabbing sharp projectiles into the officers’ feet and legs.
The deva on my shoulder held a spear the size of a toothpick and pointed forward. “Follow the unicorn!”
Viktor seemed to understand what was happening, and he jerked me to the left. “This way!”
I trudged through the tangled underbrush, trying not to trip while the forest Fae bombarded the officers. Once we reached the unicorn, he turned and galloped toward the right. We followed him, getting flashes of white through the browns and greens of the nighttime forest.
“Why are they helping?” I asked, hopping over a log with a row of colorful mushrooms on top. Did anything live there? I glanced over my shoulder at the empty trail behind us. None of the officers had managed to shake the battalion of mini soldiers.
“I already told you.” Viktor pushed back a branch to clear a path. “You’re a royal seelie, whether you believe it or not.”
The deva clinging to the tiny braids she’d twisted in my hair swung in front of my face. “Not just a royal. You’re our princess! It’s been too long since we had one, and the seelie queen hasn’t been this way in so long.”
A puff of air escaped my lungs. “I’m not a princess.” My foot slipped on a pile of slick leaves, but Viktor steadied me before we took off again. “Running with bound hands is not the easiest.”
Viktor gave a wry laugh. “Not in the least.”
Moisture began to thicken the air, and sweat made my clothes even stickier. The steady thump of the unicorn’s hoofs halted, and the woods filled with the crashing sound of water. As the trees parted, Viktor skidded to a stop.
When the unicorn neighed and jerked his head forward, Viktor remained frozen like a statue.
Dread began to twist my stomach, and then I looked beyond the prince’s shoulder for the reason he’d quit running. A ravine split the earth in two while a massive waterfall fed a lake far beneath us.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
“Does he expect us to jump?” I screeched, gawking at the beautiful creature like he’d grown another horn.
Viktor bristled. “That’s exactly what he wants us to do.”
The deva fluttered out of my hair, her wings beginning to take on an iridescent sheen. “That’s my cue to go. I am not riding this waterfall with you, princess.”
My brows knit as she zoomed into the air. “Chicken,” I called as her laughter floated down.
The unicorn pawed the ground again, and a sense of urgency hung in the air.
“We need to go now, Sloane.” Viktor forced me closer to the edge as he studied the forest behind us. “They can’t hold the officers at bay for too much longer, and we need to put as much distance between them and us as possible.”
A groan rushed out of my mouth. “Let’s get this over with.” If Viktor thought we could make this jump, I trusted him.
I hoped I didn’t regret it.
He gripped my hand and took a deep breath. “Try not to let go of me.”
I gave a jerky nod. “That’s the plan.”
“On the count of three.” Viktor pressed a hard kiss to my lips. “One, two, three.”
It felt like I was falling for an hour as droplets of water pelted my skin and Viktor’s hand tightened in mine. And then we hit the surface with a force that stole the air right out of my lungs. Tiny pinpricks assaulted my body as we plunged further into the water.
Viktor’s hand tore from mine, and he disappeared through the roiling waterfall while I was jerked toward the bottom of the lake.
Panic hemorrhaged through my veins. I couldn’t tell left from right or up from down. I was trapped in the underwater chaos, and any moment my lungs would start to burn from lack of oxygen.
Where was Viktor?
My vision began to darken. Was I close to passing out, or had I floated further toward the bottom where the light didn’t reach?
Electric tingles slithered over my triskele tattoo, trying to keep me alert. I was fading fast, though.
Something glowed through the shadows, two fires blazing white-hot.
How could anything burn underwater?
Something grabbed my arms and dragged me through the lake. Had a mermaid caught me and decided to pull me away to my death?
Instead of finding a watery grave at the bottom of the lake, my head broke the surface, and I gasped for air as my lungs burned.
“I got you, Sloane.” Viktor lifted my bound hands around his neck and drew me into his body as he swam toward the bank.
My legs wrapped around his waist so tight I worried I might hurt him. I should have known Viktor would find me. “I love you.” The words tumbled out between ragged breaths. “I tried to say it earlier, but F.I.C—”
Viktor cut off the rest of my words with a fiery kiss, sending my triskele into a furious dance of hot tingles. I’d never said that to anyone except Jilly, and it scared the shit out of me. I’d cared about Viktor for a long time, but I had no idea what our future held. If we destroyed our enemies and he became king, then what? Davis reacted to the prince being with a seelie-dae the same way most would.
The Fae world would never accept me.
“I can feel your worry,” Viktor growled. “And it doesn’t have anything to do with our current predicament.”
I kissed him again, unwilling to discuss all my fears yet. “We can talk later. We should figure out how to get out of here first.”
Viktor pulled back and studied the lush forest made up of towering trees covered in moss and ivy. Water sprayed from the falls, creating a mist over the entire lake, and the silver moon hung high in the midnight sky.
“We need to find something to help pry the iron off our wrists, at least yours so you can shadowmeld us to anywhere but here,” he said.
“That sounds like a plan.”
As Viktor swam for the shore, I made the mistake of staring into his face again. His bluish-black strands fell forward and dripped water along his sharp cheeks. Dark stubble began to shadow the hard lines of his jaw, giving him an even more wild, dangerous edge. Being tangled in him had my body going haywire while electricity radiated low in my belly.
His lips hitched into a crooked smile. “As soon as we get to safety, I’m going to lay you down and—”
Pops and cracks echoed through the forest as if branches were being ripped apart. Glowing creatures fluttered toward the ebony sky as they were ousted from the trees.
My pulse accelerated. “What is that?”
Viktor swam faster for the shore. “I’d rather not stick around to find out.”
We climbed onto the stony earth, dripping wet, and I shivered from the slight breeze. This time Viktor couldn’t use his magic to dry us out. We’d have to suck it up until we removed his restraints.
He gripped my hand and pulled me to the right where a thicket of trees grew in a tighter formation. “It’ll be easier to stay hidden in here.”
The twisting trunks and thick shrouds of moss hanging from limbs gave us plenty of coverage, but had this been the dark forest, I would have thought twice before diving into the tangle of wilderness.
“I don’t suppose any of these friendly creatures can pick a lock?” I jingled the iron around my wrists.
Viktor’s teeth flashed in the darkness as he smiled. “Some gnomes are very good with that sort of thing.” He slowed and moved aside some of the underbrush with the tip of his boot. “We just have to find one.”
“Should we sing a duet about needing some help?” I snorted. “That usually works in Disney movies.”
Viktor slicked his wet strands of hair from his face. “Only if you’re a princess. Are you admitting that now? I’d love to hear you sing.”
I flicked a fallen leaf off my shoulder. Damn. I walked right into that one. “You’re a prince. You can be the one to sing up some magical creatures. Besides, I can’t carry a tune—”
A thunderous crash reverberated moments before my feet left the ground, and I was hoisted into the air by the back of my shirt.
My feet dangled as I twisted my head to the left to find a massive face with horns protruding from his forehead and wild, swamp green hair tangled with twigs, moss, and leaves.
A screech left my mouth as my heart rammed against my chest. “What the hell are you?”
“Let her go, troll.” Viktor stomped forward, his icy irises blazing through the forest. “I will rip your horns off.”
So this was a troll—a ten-foot tall beast with razor-sharp teeth he’d use to eat me.
“For all the fuss, I thought you’d be bigger, seelie-dae.” His guttural laugh vibrated my bones. “I can fit you in my pocket.”
I kicked out, trying to shake his grip off without success. “Let me go, asshole!”
The troll ignored me and raised his other wrist where a black device was strapped around his thick limb. “I have the prince and the seelie-dae. Track my location.”
“Copy that, Gorick.” Jocelyn’s voice sailed through the gadget. “We have officers en route to you as we speak. Don’t let them out of your sight.”
Viktor stopped searching the ground for a weapon. “F.I.C. has trolls working for them now?” His incredulous tone told me this was a first.
Gorick flashed those lethal teeth again as he smiled. “We’re not all brainless monsters. Some of us are quite happy to have a job. And they pay me in mead and goats.”
I managed to kick his wrist to loosen his grip, but instead of holding me by my shirt, he wrapped his fingers around my body like a strait-jacket.
“You’re not going anywhere.” Gorick turned his muddy brown eyes on Viktor. “And unless you’d like me to eat your girlfriend, I suggest you stay put, too.”
Viktor’s nostrils flared, and he dropped the stick in his hand as he met my gaze. I’m sorry, Sloane. I don’t think we’re getting out of this one.
Shit. Here we go again, back to prison.
Warden Ren continued to stare from across his desk as he drummed his fingers on the mahogany wood. The silver tree pendant gleamed on his lapel, reminding me of the time he attacked me at the animal shelter.
Was he waiting for me to confess my crimes? Or was he expecting a second head to grow out of my neck?
“Just tell me what you want?” My hands shifted in my lap, jingling the iron cuffs around my wrists. After being exposed to iron for this long, I usually felt weaker. Maybe now that the rúnsearc bond was complete, my tolerance for the metal had been bolstered by Viktor.
Ren grabbed the pitcher of water sitting on the edge of his desk and filled a crystal tumbler halfway. “I’m thinking.” The plants choking his office quivered as the elf’s magic permeated the air. “I’m trying to decipher your energy. It’s different than before you left.”
I sighed and leaned back in the chair. “Maybe you can hurry up. It’s been a long couple of days.” Outside the window on the right, the sun was beginning to peek through the horizon. I’d had barely more than an hour of sleep in the last two days.
After Gorick captured Viktor and me, the F.I.C. officers showed up and chained our feet together. We had a painfully slow walk to the road where other officers met us with weird, open-air vehicles that ran along the root system beneath the ground using elemental earth magic. The officers kept Viktor and I separated until he head-butted one of the Fae in his car and then grabbed the other one in a headlock, demanding we ride together.
Jocelyn gave in because no officers were willing to ride alone with Viktor.
It had taken two days to reach the prison. Viktor was immediately escorted to a cell while I was forced into the warden’s office.
Ren tapped the side of the glass, his lips pursing.
“Just send me to the hole already. I’m too tired for this crap right now.” Even though Viktor was somewhere in the prison, his absence was already making me irritable.
Ren took another sip of water, purposely letting the silence thicken in his office. He slowly set the glass down and folded his hands together. “I know Queen Isadora was responsible for removing you from the prison.”
My brows dipped down my forehead. “So, you’re not going to punish me?” When he shook his head, I continued. “What about Viktor?”
He gave a noncommittal shrug. “The only punishment that seems affective for the unseelie prince is separating you two, but that has proven too tiresome.” Ren ran his fingers through his glossy sable waves. “And as for you refusing to kill Henrick, perhaps it’s for the best. I have another task that will be much more beneficial.”
Dread flooded my gut like a river overtaking a dam. Oh, great. Who did he want me to kill now? More importantly, how would I get out of it because I had no plans to become an assassin?
Ren opened a drawer and withdrew a box, placing it on the desk between us. As soon as he opened the lid, icicles seeped through my bloodstream. “I have found the perfect use for the Amulet of Gealladh.” His smile became a twisted version of glee. “This is the only way I can ensure that you follow through with your next task.”
I tried unsuccessfully to calm my racing pulse. “And what oath are you going to force me to make with that thing?” Whatever promise I made, it had to be fulfilled, or there would be consequences.
“I want you to kill Cortland Jorah.”