So this will be the last chapter of this story I post. I will be taking down the entire thing September First. If you still wish to read the rest of the novel as I write it, please let me know either via review, PM, or my tumblr ellasouthgate and we'll work out an arrangement. Again, I ask that if you wish to receive chapter, I ask that you give me at least a little bit of feedback each chapter. Trix, you and I have already worked out how we're going to do this, and I thank you so very much for all of your support. Claudi and JaystarDeamon I will be contacting you shortly to make arrangements for receiving the chapters, and I thank you for your interest and support.

Now without further ado, the final publically posted chapter (but certainly not the last of the novel. There are another fourteen chapters.)

Chapter Twenty-Four

Nathaniel's Plan

A flash of metal slit across his throat, and the soldier's body dropped to the ground with a sickening thud.

"Next!" Maeveen called as a pair of Stars dragged away the body.

Nathaniel felt himself shoved forward, and resisted the urge to glare at the people behind him.

He was standing in the palace plaza waiting for his turn to declare his loyalties. Maeveen and Richard stood on the top of the staircase that led into the slightly charred forest Nathaniel had once called home. A few Stars were racing around inside, fixing the damage Asteria's troops had caused, but Nathaniel no longer wanted anything to do with Silvus.

The rumors spread like wildfire. Richard and his children had been cursed. The children had gotten away. Princess Odette had been almost forced to marry Rayhan but was saved by the Dwarves who escaped with her and their families. Nathaniel was overjoyed to know that his friends were safe, especially since Trevor had not been so lucky, but they had forgotten one minor detail: Nathaniel had been left behind.

He was furious, but not one hundred present sure at what. Nathaniel understood that it had been best for them to escape when they had the chance. After all, it wasn't their fault Lochan separated him from Madeleine. And Nathaniel prayed that he wouldn't recognize his friends among the bodies that were being carelessly dragged out of the palace and unceremoniously thrown into a pile. They would be tossed into a pit that Maeveen ordered to be dug in the training field. Nathaniel knew that day wouldn't be the last time Maeveen had bodies to be rid of.

Perhaps Nathaniel was disgusted at the sight of Richard. Nothing had been physically changed about the King, but one could easily tell Richard was enchanted just by looking at him. There was just something different about him. It could be the way Richard was fawning over Maeveen, or the way he smirked as his fiancée murdered anyone who would not kneel before her.

The announcement had been very theatrical. Once Asteria's Stars were withdrawn, Richard had burst into the ballroom – the center of the melee – and announced that the Lignumis were to surrender to Maeveen who Richard would marry in a few weeks.

It was painful to see the strong-willed king broken, and Nathaniel desperately tried not to think how Richard's new fiancée was also his step-mother-in-law.

"Next!" Maeveen called as another body was dragged away.

As he moved forward in line, Nathaniel recognized the latest victim: Stephan, the head guard of the Royal Wing. Stephan had given Nathaniel plenty of trouble when the mutual feelings between the stable boy and Princess Lindsey had become public knowledge, but Stephan was a good man. Nathaniel remembered sadly that Stephan's wife had just given birth. It was another child who would grow up without a parent thanks to Maeveen.

Or was it thanks to him? Perhaps that was the thing Nathaniel was most angry about. The hiding place had been found thanks to him. The deaths of bodies piled to his left were Nathaniel's responsibility. Trevor's death was his responsibility.

"Why do I let you talk me into things?" Nathaniel had asked only a few hours ago.

"Because you would be hopelessly lost if anything ever happened to me," Trevor had replied, never suspecting his life was almost over.

Trevor had been right; without his friend, Nathaniel was hopelessly lost. It had always been Trevor that came up with their over the top escape plans.

The boy's body had been placed aside especially as a warning to all that Maeveen had no qualms about taking the life of a child. It was unnatural how still and pale Trevor looked in death.

Nathaniel wondered what Trevor would have done if he had lived long enough to face the choice Nathaniel was about to make. Would he have pledged his loyalty to Maeveen? Or would he have died a martyr?

The question was fruitless. Trevor had died a martyr because Nathaniel couldn't keep his mouth shut. Besides, the Dwarves would have never left one of their kids behind. It must have been a horrible decision for Marshall to leave behind his son's body.

"Next!" Maeveen called.

Nathaniel jumped at the volume. He had been so lost in his thoughts, he hadn't registered scaling the steps until there was only two people between himself and Maeveen.

Viewing Richard up close, Nathaniel wished he knew how to break the king's curse. Maybe then he could prove he was worth something good. Also, disenchanting Richard would be a plus.

"The choice is simple," Maeveen told the man standing before her. "Take a knee and pledge your loyalty to me as your Queen, or be killed. What do you choose?"

The man hesitated, sending a pained look back to someone in the crowd. He sighed heavily and bent down before Maeveen.

"My loyalty is yours, beauteous Queen," the man pledged.

"Name?" Maeveen asked.


Maeveen motioned to a Star behind her, "Take him back inside. Next!"

The girl in front of Nathaniel stepped forward, but before Maeveen could pose the choice, and the girl gracefully swept into a bow.

"I pledge my loyalty to you, O Powerful Queen," said a familiar voice.

It was Piper.

Maeveen smiled at the girl, "I'm impressed at your suddenness."

"I have no love for the Royal Family," Piper replied, still bent down. "I'm glad to see them, and their handmaidens gone. Did you kill any of them?"

"My Stars report the youngest handmaiden was killed. Why do you ask?"

"Maeveen!" Rayhan's yell rang out.

He was marching out of the palace, tailed by Jamal who was holding a bandaged arm. They were glaring and heading straight for Maeveen.

"I have a bone to pick with you!" Rayhan snarled when he reached the Star.

Maeveen rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to respond when another yell came.

"Maeveen!" Lochan came marching across the plaza. "My sister is dead?"

"Satya knew what she was getting into," Maeveen rubbed her forehead like she had had enough of the antics of toddlers. "Her death is not my fault."

"No, it's his," Lochan pointed at Richard. "And I want him dead."

"I'm not killing Richard!" Maeveen snapped. "I need him to make me Queen."

"Fine, I'll wait until you've married before I kill him."

"Then the throne passes to Andrew and I'm be right back where I've started!"

"Excuse me?" Piper cleared her throat. "But shall I stand?"

"Piper?" Jamal looked surprised.

"You know the girl?" Maeveen asked.

"What about my sister?" Lochan snapped.

"Hush!" Maeveen held up a hand to silence the Star. "The girl may stand. How do you know her, Prince Jamal?"

"She helped me obtain some important information," Jamal replied. He grinned at Piper suggestively, "She's knowledgeable."

"Really?" Maeveen looked at Piper with interest. "Do you know Odette's real name?"

"Sadly not," Piper confessed. "But I know much about the castle. I'm very good at… coaxing people out of information. I would be a very good attendant, My Queen."

Maeveen stared at Piper for a long time, "Tell me who are you loyal to?"

"At the moment? You, of course."

"No! When the cards are down where do your loyalties lie?"

Piper grinned, "With the highest bidder."

Maeveen smiled, "I like your honesty."

The Star slashed the girl's throat.

"But I'm not always going to be the highest bidder," Maeveen said as Piper's body fell to her feet. "Get this away from me."

Nathaniel swallowed hard as he watched Piper get hauled off. Like Rayhan, he was staring at Piper in shock. It was true, Nathaniel had never liked the girl, but that didn't mean he wanted Piper dead. Nathaniel doubted even Aileen would have approved of the murder.

"Pity," Jamal shrugged. He was completely unaffected by the needless killing. "She was a good lay."

"Next!" Maeveen called.

Rayhan frowned, "What about our-"

"Look what he have here," Lochan grinned.

Rayhan stopped when he saw Nathaniel standing in front of them, "Look, Jamal, it's the horse boy."

"You know this one too?" Maeveen asked.

"He's Princess Talia's boyfriend," Jamal teased maliciously.

"I'm not her boyfriend!" Nathaniel couldn't even believe he was blushing in front of the second most dangerous Star in the history.

"He's also the one Satya got to talk," Lochan replied. "Actually, it was quite impressive how long he fought her off."

"How long?" Maeveen questioned.




Maeveen's eyes went wide, "I thought no one lasted longer than five minutes."

"No one who wasn't a Star," Lochan shrugged. He eyed the oblivious Richard dangerously, "So do I get to kill him, or what?"

Maeveen looked peculiarly between Richard and Nathaniel, "Perhaps."

Nathaniel lowered his eyes.

"What place in line is Princess Talia?" Maeveen inquired. "Don't bother asking Richard, he can't remember he even had kids."

"Yes, I remember from when he was strangling Odette, and you stood idly by!" Rayhan snapped.

Nathaniel's eyes went wide. Richard had strangled Sarah?

Maeveen shook her head, "It's not my fault you ran from the room like a coward. In fact, if you had decided to save her, I bet she would have willingly become your wife. It's hard to say no to the man who saves you."

"And yet here I am, wifeless," Rayhan retorted.

"Enough!" Maeveen yelled. "I have had enough of your complaining! I upheld my agreement! I handed you the Princess on a platter! It's not my fault you let the opportunity slip through your fingers!"

"I want to know where she is!" Rayhan demanded.

"So do I!" Maeveen snapped. "Don't you understand? They were supposed to die! I need one of them to die before Odette can get to Asteria!"


"Because there's only one thing Odette can do to break her siblings' curse, and it will destroy me. But she can't break the enchantment if one dies before Odette undertakes the conditions."

Jamal frowned at the Star, "Why the hell would you place a curse that kills you if it's broken?"

Maeveen growled, "Because loophole magic is harder to break than contract magic."

"What's loophole magic?" Jamal asked.

"Buddy," Lochan held up a hand, "we're not going to stand around and exposit the complexities of Star magic. You want to know the answer? Go read a book."

Jamal shuddered at the thought.

"Now, if someone would answer my question," Maeveen glared at the men around her. "What place is Princess Talia?"

"Fourth," Rayhan answered. "Now what are we going to do about Odette?"

"And Richard?" Lochan nodded to the King who was staring off into space.

"Well…" Maeveen narrowed her eyes at Nathaniel and smiled, "I might have an idea. What's your name?"

"Nathaniel," the boy answered nervously.

"Exactly how close are you with Talia? Be honest, I don't feel like killing a potential resource."

"Him?" Jamal questioned.

Rayhan elbowed his cousin in the ribs.

Nathaniel glanced over at Trevor's body.

"He's gone," Nathaniel reminded himself. "Think for yourself."

"We're…" Nathaniel sighed and looked Maeveen in the eye.

And then it hit him.

"We're mutually attracted to each other," Nathaniel told the truth, turning an idea over in his mind. If he played his cards right, maybe he could pull it off. Trying to sound casual, he added, "To be honest, I think we'd be dating by now if she didn't have five brothers willing to beat me up. Richard liked me though."

"Did he?" Maeveen eyed her intended. "You know… the ability to resist a Star's gift for so long is quite rare for a human. But of course, you are a human, aren't you?"

Nathaniel hesitated, "Not… exactly."

The Metallites looked at him in shock.

Nathaniel took a deep breath.

"My great-grandmother was a Star," Nathaniel confessed the one secret he had only ever told a handful of people. "She had the Gift of preventing other Stars from using their Gifts on her."

"Star lineage is interesting when a human becomes involved," Maeveen said. "After the first generation, the child loses healing powers, as those take the most energy. The next generation loses elements, and the next loses shape shifting. Their great-great grandchild won't have powers unless another Star enters the line. But a Star's human children don't get unique Gifts, they receive the original Star's. Even when you get to the great grandchild, the Gift isn't very powerful, just enough to fight. Can you resist other Stars' Gifts?"

"I don't know," Nathaniel answered. "No one's ever tried."

"Lochan, take his sight," Maeveen ordered.

Before Nathaniel could object, the Star had waved his hand.

"What do you see?" Maeveen asked.

"The world is fuzzy," Nathaniel reported, "but nothing glasses wouldn't fix."

"Very good," Maeveen nodded. "Lochan, return his sight."

Reluctantly, Lochan waved his hand again.

"You are a very valuable asset," Maeveen smiled at the boy. "I might have a role for you. The only question is your loyalty. Will you pledge your allegiance to me?"

Nathaniel hesitated, "I-"

"Maeveen! I got a surprise for you!" a voice called.

To Nathaniel's utter horror, Ormr was exiting the castle, dragging behind him Marshall's unmoving body.

Marshall was dead?

"Oh, good," Maeveen grinned at the body, "you got a Dwarf! Why don't you leave him next to his son? Did you get the daughter too?"

"She got away," Ormr went down the steps, Marshall's head carelessly banging against each one. "The Princess too. Marshall was trying to get her out, but Henry knocked me out."

Nathaniel couldn't help but grin.

"So you're glad they got away?" Maeveen turned on the boy. "You won't pledge yourself."

"Yes I will!" Nathaniel objected.

Maeveen shook her head, "I have no proof that I can expect loyalty. Pity, you had potential."

The blade flashed in her hand as she raised it.

"Talia's name is Lindsey!" Nathaniel yelled, putting up his arms defensively.

Maeveen stopped, "I'm sorry."

Nathaniel breathed heavily. He only hoped the Royal Children would forgive him.

"Talia's name is Lindsey," Nathaniel repeated. "I don't know the other names. I wasn't highly ranked enough, but Lindsey told me her real name. Lindsey Lambheart."

Maeveen looked at him for a long time.

"Lochan, make me a puddle," Maeveen ordered. "You're better at handling it than I."

Obligingly, Lochan made a small puddle on steps. Maeveen bent down and gently touched the water.

"Lindsey Lambheart," Maeveen spoke in a clear voice.

The water rippled and a moment later it projected the image of small swan with an orange tuff of feathers shaped like a lamb.

"Lindsey's a swan?" Nathaniel stared at the image in horror.

"So you speak the truth," Maeveen smiled and waved the image away. "Good. Lochan? I promise you, once I'm done with Richard, I'll gladly let you kill him. Rayhan? Tell what you need to hunt down Odette or her siblings. My resources are at your disposal, and I promise I won't kill Odette."

Rayhan frowned, "I don't trust you."

"That's the smartest thing you've ever said to me," Maeveen grinned. "Nathaniel?"

Nathaniel looked up.

"Come with me."

His mind was filled with images of swans as Maeveen led Nathaniel into the throne room. Richard had been left to deal with the remaining Lignumis.

"Why couldn't we talk in the plaza?" Nathaniel asked as Maeveen seated herself on the throne.

"Because I can't trust Stars." Maeveen giggled, "I can't trust humans either, but they're too stupid to take advantage of me. We are a higher cut than them, Nathaniel."

"I'm mostly human."

"But not completely. Now, let's stop being silly. You really care about Lindsey, don't you? It's killing you to think that she's a swan."

"Well… yeah," Nathaniel confessed.

"It's not as bad as you think," Maeveen assured the boy. "She turns back into a human when the sun is down, but I could return her to a full human if you wanted."

Nathaniel frowned, "Why would you do that?"

"When I marry Richard, I will be Lignum's legitimate Queen, but he can't live forever. Especially if someone breaks the curse."

"It can be broken?"

"Tisk, tisk," Maeveen shook her head. "Let's not get delusions of grandeur. I'm not going to tell you how, so don't even think about trying."

"I'd be pretty stupid to cross you," Nathaniel figured some flattery might help his plan.

"Turn around," Maeveen said suddenly.

"I'm sorry?"

"Spin for me. I want to see all of you."

Nathaniel slowly revolved. He really was nothing to write home about. Short, scrawny, and scraggly. Unruly brown hair, green eyes, a few freckles across his nose, only his especially pale skin hinted at his Star heritage.

"How old are you?" Maeveen asked.


"You're very short," Maeveen looked over the boy. "Were your parents tall?"

"Quite tall," Nathaniel answered. "They died a few years ago."

"And strong?"

"Dad was a woodcutter and Mom was a horse trainer."

"You have potential," Maeveen slowly smiled. "Much potential. What do you think about being a member of my personal guard?"

Nathaniel's eyes bugged out, "Your personal guard?"

He couldn't believe his luck.

"Yes," Maeveen nodded. "I think we could train you. Richard liked you before the enchantment, so he'll still like you, as long as you don't pose a threat to me. I need someone to watch him, and your resistance to Star Gifts will be an asset."

"What would I get in return?" Nathaniel asked.

Maeveen smiled slyly, "Lindsey."

"Lindsey?" he repeated as something shifted in his stomach.

"Like I said, Richard won't live forever," Maeveen explained, "I will need someone to take over once he dies. The throne passes to Andrew, but I can easily do away him, Odette, and Arvid leaving Lindsey to be Queen. If she feels strongly for you, she can be persuaded to let me help her control Lignum, if you give me your approval. The two of you could marry, and you would become King Consort of Lignum."

"But… Lindsey is a swan. And didn't you promise not to kill Odette?"

"I won't kill her. That doesn't mean someone else can't. Here's the deal, you serve me for ten years, after that you are free to go live your life however you want. I will turn Lindsey back into a human at the end of the ten years, and we will convince her that I am a good ally. Once she's seen the light, I'll let Lochan kill Richard, and Lindsey will become Lignum's technical Queen. Do we have a deal?"

Nathaniel thought hard. A month ago he had been posed with the issue of whether or not he was willing to fight to Lindsey. It was crushing to realise that he was no soldier, and had to give her up, but he would not fail her this time.

Yes, he wasn't yet a soldier, but he could be the perfect spy.

"Deal," Nathaniel shook Maeveen's hand.

"Good," Maeveen released him hand. "I will warn you though, if you betray me, you'll regret it."

"You'll kill me?"

"No," Maeveen shook her head. "I'll kill Lindsey."

Lindsey frantically beat her wings against the wind.

"Okay, don't panic," she told herself. "You're a swan. That's nothing to worry about. People like swans. It could be worse, you could be a bear."

As she was bathed in the rays of the setting sun, Lindsey had no idea where she was. She couldn't even recall which direction she had flown from the palace. What should she do? Go to King William? Go to the Dwarves? Go home? Where even was she?

"Why is Lignum nothing but trees?" Lindsey mentally grumbled scanning the forest below for something familiar looking.

Luck appeared to be on her side when she noticed below a signpost planted at a fork in the road not far off.

"Okay, I'll go look at the sign, and wherever it's directing me I'll take it as a symbol from the Stars telling me what to do next."

Lindsey fumbled downward, still trying to get a hang of the whole flying thing. It didn't help that night was slowly overtaking the forest below as Yang's rays slid below the horizon.

The Princess was about ten feet from the ground when the sun finally set.

Suddenly her wings were gone and she was falling.

Lindsey screamed as she crashed to the earth, narrowing missing cracking her head on the signpost.

She breathed heavily, daring not to move as she stared up at the night sky.

"What just happened?"

Slowly, Lindsey looked to her side. She was lying on top of a pile of swan feathers, and she saw her arm.

Her human arm.

Lindsey gasped and sat up. Her legs were human! So was her torso! Her tail was gone, and neck was small again! She was a human!

The Princess was about to get up and cheer when it hit her.

Why would Maeveen turn her into a swan for only one day?

Then she recalled the story of William's curse. He had only been in bear form when the sun was up, maybe it would be the same deal for her curse?

Lindsey shuddered at the thought. Hopefully the transformations would become less painful, and she wouldn't get a headache from trying to understanding language. She frowned at the pile of feathers around her. It appeared that she had shed them while turning back.

She was dressed in the same clothes she had been wearing while cursed. Would she be forced to wear those clothes forever? Or was it whatever clothes she was wearing when she transformed into a swan, she would still be wearing when she turned back into a human? What if she naked when she turned into a swan? Hopefully she would never have to find out.

Lindsey looked down at her neckline and smiled. She was happy she hadn't lost that; it was her small piece of home.

Home. Was that were she was heading now? She remembered the sign, and her decision. Hopefully whatever city it listed, she recognized.

And she did recognize it, for the sign read "Silvus – Six Hours on Horseback."

Lindsey looked around the forest. There was a small quartet of trees group together not far off the path. It looked as if it would shelter her from bad weather, and as a Lignumi, she was not stranger to sleeping on the forest floor.

As she settled into the nook, and readied herself for sleep, she thought about what she might do when she got to Silvus. Hopefully her father would come reclaim it from Maeveen, her siblings would return, and maybe Lindsey would find out what happened to Nathaniel.

Once again thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed. I value all of the feedback and support. Hopefully someday the full version of this story will land on a bookshelf near you.