p class="MsoNormal" style="text-align: center; text-indent: 36.0pt;" align="center"Chapter six/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-align: center; text-indent: 36.0pt;" align="center"Katarina/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-align: center; text-indent: 36.0pt;" align="center" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I applaud myself for the restraint it takes to walk behind Dinah and follow her through the jungle toward the gates that lead to the palace. Her bodyguards surround us on all sides but it is for her protection, not ours. I nearly keep pace with her but I have to admit she has an unfair advantage wearing such skimpy clothing. Climbing over moss-covered logs is not exactly graceful or ideal in my dress and I begin to regret my outfit choice./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"When Dinah crosses over a particularly soggy patch of mud and urges us forward I've reached the end of my tolerance. I'm about to call her out for purposefully leading us through the worst parts of the jungle when Roshan stops me with two hands around my waist. He gently lifts me up and deposits me on the other side of the muck, saving my dress and temper./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Dinah glances over her shoulder and shoots me a mocking smile./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Seeing as members of the Royal Bloodline can't spirit directly into each other's homes you probably should have dressed accordingly. But I can't blame you entirely for your poor outfit choice. You probably don't get out much." Her voice is sickly sweet when it floats over to me and I grit my teeth at the tone./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Roshan's hand tightens on the small of my back but I wave him off. It's going to take a lot more than Dinah's weak insults to get a rise out of me./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"She's right though. Ever since the conflict between the houses that resulted in the Royal Bloodlines only gathering on Solstices and Equinoxes, no Fae are allowed to freely pass from one territory to another and the restriction is often suffocating. But it's not as if Dinah can travel through the realm either the hypocritical bitch./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span"Well actually Dinah, I did get out quite recently to go collect some humans who were intruding on Lethian's borders… maybe you heard about it? You probably did, seeing as it was your poor enforcement that allowed the humans to pass into our territory in the first place."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"The Heir stops dead in her tracks and everyone halts. I'm staring at Dinah's clenched back when I hear Aeldra's small inhale of breath and I know she's preparing herself to defend me. Cohen allows his control over his emotions slip for a fraction of a heartbeat and I sense his devious pride shining through. However, I snuff out the smirk threatening to spread across my lips when Dinah finally spins to face me and I school my features into neutral innocence./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Don't you dare insult my father in his own lands or you will find yourself without a tongue."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Her order slams into me and I suddenly feel her enchantment magic swirling like strong wine through my veins. My eyelids droop momentarily and I feel compelled to take back everything I had said. I open my mouth to apologize and with another wave of magic I wish for nothing more than to please Dinah and do anything she asks to make her happy again./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanI catch myself at the last moment and I'm able to think through the thick fog in my brain. With a surge of hot anger that she dares to use her powers on me I throw out a shield of hard energy that reflects her magic and additionally I send her a forceful shock as a warning. When my strike hits home her spine straightens instinctively with the jolt and she hisses in pain but I cut her off before she can speak./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Dinah, I think you misunderstand. I was not insulting the Sovereign, only you." My tone drips with sugar to match the one she gave me moments before. The golden Fae glares at me with such potent hostility that I can sense hints of it through the shroud she conjures to protect her emotions in my presence./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"My smile is bright and taunting and with a snarl Dinah throws her hair over her shoulder and spins back around. I look at Aeldra and we both roll our eyes before hurrying to catch up to my nemesis's retreating form./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Thankfully, we reach the gates shortly./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"The prisoners are drenched in sweat and panting from the fast pace we've forced them to set by dragging them along. When we come up on the entrance to the palace I glance over my shoulder and watch as the human men absorb their surroundings. In perfect synchronization an expression of utter astonishment transforms their faces./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I suppose the Faye Palace is a magnificent sight to see since its structure is spread throughout the gigantic treetops of the jungle. Thousands of spiralling stairs lead up to the castle carved from bark and fortified by stone. Large branches separate rooms and create corridors while the trees' massive trunks that have stood strong for thousands of years support marble floors. To connect the many rooms of the palace swooping bridges dangle and intertwine creating an appearance similar to spider silk linking together a great web. White lights float in between the leaves of the trees, which creates a hypnotic style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"It would almost be amusing when the brunette man, who clearly has no self-control, stumbles out of Aeldra's grasp and drops to his knees, as if he intends to worship the palace itself, if it were not so nauseating./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"However, it is interesting to observe a human's reaction to Fae lands. It's like a babe experiencing the world for the first time. I almost pity the humans for living such dull existences that they can be struck stupid by such mundane things./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I motion for Aeldra to control the prisoner and do not wait for her to jerk him to his feet again before I turn and pass through the Faye gates onto the castle grounds. The gates are designed almost identical to the ones in Lethian except instead of the smooth white arcs I'm so familiar with thick ivy coils together to create the magical style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"My father always told me that the gates are the Royal Houses' last line of defense against our enemies, but really the only thing they do is prevent Royal Fae of other bloodlines from spiriting directly into the heart of our respective kingdoms. That is why today we were not able to transport the prisoners directly to the Faye palace and instead had to convene outside of the gates and walk in. I would not have been able to spirit into the Faye palace and neither could Rozell or Roshan./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"As I pass under the archway a tiny shiver travels up my spine because the Faye gates recognize me as a stranger to the land./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Dinah doesn't let me take the lead for very long and before I know it I'm again trailing after her as she leads us to the Sovereign./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"We climb what feels like thousands of stairs and have to slow down when the humans get noticeably tired. Apparently Aeldra's prisoner is afraid of heights and I feel her patience for the man break completely when we ascend too high for his comforts. He huddles close to the trunk of tree and refuses to proceed. The insults she hurdles at him in an attempt to keep his feet moving have me stepping in to intervene but before I can Dinah signals for one of her guards to carry the poor shaking figure. By the time we reach the top levels of the jungle fortress My Four have to heavily support the prisoners who drag their feet against the floor with exhaustion. This place was not designed for the weakness or fragility of mortals./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"The humidity is stifling as Dinah leads us through the open corridors toward the throne room and I feel like I'm inhaling equal parts moisture and air. Perhaps this is why Dinah's skin glows so annoyingly perfect. My dress sticks uncomfortably to my body and I can feel beads of sweat gathering on my nose. I begin to understand why the Fae here wear as little clothing as possible./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I'm lost in my own thoughts when we stop before a short bridge leading to the largest tree I've ever seen in my life. I have a faint memory from my childhood of seeing the same tree when my father had brought me with him to negotiate with Sovereign Laos Faye. At the time I remember thinking there is nothing in the entire world that is taller than this tree./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Dinah starts across the silver bridge that connects the platform we're standing on to the enormous tree that houses the Sovereign's throne room. The bridge looks so delicate that I worry for a second if it can carry the weight of our entourage, but as I step onto the links that glow nearly white to follow the Heir I can feel their incredible stability. The handiwork of the Faye who can make something so delicately beautiful but completely functional impresses me./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"The bridge hardly sways at all as we all walk across it single file. We're halfway to the guards protecting the doors leading into the magnificent tree and the throne room beyond when the hairs on my arms rise. A shiver licks down my back cooling my skin for a second and I feel something is dreadfully wrong. I halt in my tracks and look around for any sign of disruption. Every fibre in my body is on high alert but I still don't sense any danger./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I cast out with my powers and a heavy wave of emotion rears up to greet me. The potency of the raw anger I feel startles me and I step back. It takes me a second to fixate on the direction the anger is coming from since it's so strong the emotion crackles through the air like a small lightning storm. When I locate it I realize it's originating from inside the throne room. At that moment I know it has to be the Sovereign because only he could generate something so powerful./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"This is a murderous rage that I have not encountered./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanIn a second I have a shield of hard energy in front of me protecting My Four and the prisoners behind us because I don't know whom the Sovereign's wrath is directed towards and I don't entirely want to find out./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanI don't realize I'm backtracking until I bump into Cohen's hard chest and he grabs my arm to stabilize me./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""What is it?" He whispers in my ear so quietly no one else could detect it. Cohen's tone is sharp and unyielding with worry and defensiveness. I look over my shoulder but it isn't his eyes I search for./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Roshan meets my gaze and I see he's already pushing his way through the people on the bridge to get to my side. Rozell has already reached me and I notice his fingers lightly brushing his twin blades in anticipation. They've sensed it too. Cohen and Aeldra quickly grasp what's happening and fall into formation even though they don't fully understand./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Dinah looks over her shoulder when she realizes we've stopped following her and gives me an exasperated look./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Look Katarina, I know you think the world revolves around you but we actually don't have all day to wait for you."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"My own anger coils tight in my chest but deep down I know it's because I'm scared. I'm scared for My Four and the situation we've unknowingly walked into. I'm scared that this is a trap and I don't know how we're going to escape this fortress and keep the prisoners alive. The way the palace is designed gives every advantage to the Faye who are familiar with it and it gives no advantage to us./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Dinah sees the flare rise in my face and I see her confusion for a split second before I'm suddenly in front of her. I grasp her skinny little neck and squeeze it hard beneath my fingers letting my anger pour out as I stare into her eyes. She gasps in surprise at my rapid switch of emotion but signals her bodyguards to stand down when every single spear is suddenly pointed at my heart. There is a moment of silence as Dinah and I stare hatefully at one another and everyone is poised to attack at one of our signals. The humans huddle together on the bridge behind us not daring to move and I think their anxiety has reached a maximum./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""What the hell is this, Dinah?" I snarl./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""I have no idea what you're talking about, crazy."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Dinah responds surprisingly calm despite the fact that I'm crushing her throat./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Your father, I can feel his rage from here. Is this an ambush? Are you planning on attacking us? Because I em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"promise you/em it will not end the way you are expecting, so I suggest you reconsider." I flash my teeth at her to drive home the threat but she's stopped focusing on me./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"The Heir is processing my words and I can almost see her thoughts as she realizes something is wrong with her father./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Release me." Dinah demands and her words are laced with compulsion. Her magic is strong and my grip loosens enough that she is able to reach up and twist my wrist painfully, forcing me to let go of her. I don't reach out to restrain her again because she turns quickly on the bridge and breaks into a run. I watch her as the guards, who have now multiplied because of my apparent threat, scramble to get out of her way as she weaves through them. Dinah bursts into the throne room and disappears from style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I look at Rozell but he already knows what I'm thinking./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""No, Kat." He puts an arm out to stop me but I brush it aside to follow Dinah./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""She doesn't know what's wrong, meaning this isn't a premeditated attack. I felt her genuine confusion. And there is no way they would start a war with Lethian because of some human prisoners who disobeyed orders. Not even the Faye are that stupid." I whisper to My Four as we pass the guards who are glaring at me and haven't lowered their weapons from where they are aimed at my heart. However, they are smart enough to know not to try and stop me./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"The prisoners are dragged along behind us and I step into the throne room to confront the wrath of Sovereign Laos Faye./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"He sits in all his grandeur in the middle of the large room carved into the heart of the tree. The space is empty of Fae and this is a bad sign, seeing as he must have sent his court away because he did not wish to bear any witnesses./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Fairy lights hover in the air above his throne and cast a warm glow against the walls. One would think that the gentle light would soften the Sovereign's features, but nothing in the world could make the lethal murder in his eyes less intimidating as he stares down at me and my entourage./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I clench my fists as we all sweep into a low bow and for some reason I feel as if I am bending the knee for a sword about to take my head./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Sovereign Laos Faye, I am here on behalf of my father Sovereign Tyrus Lethian and I bring to you the prisoners we found trespassing in our territory. We have delivered them so that you may exact their punishment for disobeying the laws as you see fit."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Choosing my words carefully, I speak so that he remembers that we are here because his subjects are at fault and that my father is respecting his rule by offering him the courtesy of dealing with the humans without our involvement. Apparently, though I said something wrong because the Sovereign's lip curls to expose his deathly sharp canines and he stands up so swiftly my stomach flutters./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Deliver punishment as em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"I /emsee fitem style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"?/em Is that the honour you father is granting me?"/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Laos Faye strides elegantly down the steps leading to his throne, but I can see his body is coiled like a poisonous snake preparing to strike. He passes by Dinah, who is kneeled at the base of the stairs with her head bent. As her father walks by her, she glances up and meets my eyes. I want to be angry with her but to her credit she looks just as confused and lost as I style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanI forget Dinah when the Sovereign stops a foot in front of me. It is an effort not to choke on the emotion pouring off him and I struggle to keep my face passive and respectful. Laos Faye's skin is several shades darker than his daughter's and his eyes look black in the pale light. I find that it is an almost unbearable task to meet them, but I do./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"My Four are all tense behind me and I feel as if there is a band stretched between all of us pulled so taunt it is about to snap. I try to relax, hoping they will follow my direction. I'm not entirely sure what the Sovereign wants me to say, so I stay silent./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Does the Sovereign Tyrus Lethian think himself to be merciful? Does it do his ego well to think that he has at least let these trespassers live? I wonder if he reconciles his horrendous actions with the thoughts of previous mercy and excuses his ruthless decisions in the name of deserving ramifications."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"My back stiffens in anger at the cynicism and loathing dripping from Laos Faye's words. The insult he speaks against my father burns me up and I have to bite my tongue hard to keep from lashing out. Everyone shifts behind me but I don't dare move a muscle as Laos Faye leans down to snarl in my face./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Did your father think it em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"just/em to command his human puppet King to kill the trespassers before I even had a chance to bestow punishment on them or to amend the human mistakes? Does he believe my rule to be so weak that he needs to step in before giving me the chance?"/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I am trying desperately to keep up with what he is saying and to understand his accusations and my mind is whirling./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""But your Majesty, my father is giving you the chance to do all of this. We have brought you the prisoners." I remind him but I don't let my voice waver for a second. I must be strong in the face of his anger./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""I am not talking about these humans who you have dragged before me looking half alive, I am speaking about the ones who were murdered today in the Lethian Territories for trespassing. A human babe was among those cut down."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"A shock wave ripples through everyone and I can feel the horror bloom in the fragile hearts of the humans. Their guilt and sorrow is apparent but it is not only present in the prisoners but also in the rest of the Fae gathered./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I allow the shock to show clear on my face, "I apologize Sovereign, but I did not know."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"He studies me for a few heartbeats and I notice his nostrils are flared with anger but finally he straightens again./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""We received word only just before you arrived, but surely you would know of your father's orders." Laos Faye turns swiftly and marches back toward his throne. I feel My Four relax slightly as the distance between the threat and me grows, but I do not./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Instead I follow him and only stop when I'm standing next to where Dinah is still kneeling at her father's feet. The Sovereign ascends to sit on his throne and looks down at me with barely hidden distain./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""My father would not have ordered to have the humans killed, this I know to be true. I heard him say there would be no Faye human blood spilled in his empire with my own ears. He would not break that vow lightly, I promise."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"The Sovereign's face is unreadable as he regards me in an attempt to gauge my honesty./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""So are you proposing that it is not only the humans of my lands who have decided to deliberately disobey their ruler?"/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I didn't think about it that way, but I suppose that is what I'm suggesting. I know in my heart my father would never have approved to have the humans murdered and especially not a child./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"But what does this mean? Are the humans pushing back against our laws? What will this mean for them when we have to put them back in their rightful place? A lump forms in my throat and I have to push my words out forcefully to work past it./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""I promise you my father will hear of this and we will take the necessary actions to quell this defiance. Both of our kingdoms must communicate with the humans, for it seems they are beginning to forget who is in power." My voice resonates through the throne room and even I am surprised at its echo of steely determination./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Laos Faye looks thoughtful and I see Dinah glance up at her father in anticipation. My heart picks up speed in my chest./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;""Yes, Tyrus and I both have work to do in our Kingdoms. Go tell your father what has happened today and tell him that I expect him to get his humans in line… and punish those responsible for the wrongful execution of mine. You can assure him there will be changes made in my territory as well."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"There is a hint of magic in his command and I suddenly feel as if this is the most important task anyone has dedicated to me in my entire life./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I nod my affirmative and bow before spinning on my heel to take my leave. My Four follow me out of the throne room but before we leave I cast one more glance at the prisoners still huddled together on the floor. They look as if they wish to disappear altogether. I almost pity them and their fate, but by the genuine anger that Laos Faye felt when he discovered the slaughter of his humans today I doubt he is going to inflict any harm on these style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"The dark skinned boy with striking eyes meets my gaze as I brush by them and in that moment I do feel sorry for everything we have put them through. But they did break the law and I push any thoughts of them out of my mind since I have bigger things to worry about right now./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"That fool of a human King must be responsible for the murder of the Faye trespassers today but he has no idea the hell he has brought down upon himself. When my father hears of the deaths the only person I will pity is that disobedient human ruler./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"Then a thought strikes me that has my blood running like ice under my skin./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"I remember that a Banshee appeared to me as an omen of death and that she had clutched Faye human clothing in her hands that were drenched in blood./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 36.0pt;"And I also remember her warning that this is only the beginning. /p