Unraveling Destiny (The Fae Chronicles Book 5), page 6
“Well then,” I grimaced as I imagined the horrors of what they’d done to an entire race. “That tells me he assumed he got them all, but I still think we should check out that castle. Because if they’re not all dead, they sure as hell have a reason to want us all dead, and I for one can’t really fault them.”
“Neither do I, but it isn’t Alazander they want now. Ryder led the raids. If he hadn’t, Alazander would have tried to kill him, or at the very least retaliated against him. Remember, Ryder was the Heir at the time.” Ristan looked at me meaningfully.
“Ryder killed them?” I whispered, and felt the chair warm beneath me. “Damn, that explains why he said they were all dead.”
“We didn’t have a choice back then; we don’t even know for sure if he would have killed Ryder or made him watch as Alazander killed one of us that he was close to. Zahruk and I had several other brothers by that time, ones who we were rather fond of; Aodhan was just a child then.”
I chewed my lip as I considered Ryder back then, having to follow orders of a murderous asshole. It was hard to understand how he was honorable, and hadn’t been tainted by the evil that was his father. People still assumed he was because Alazander forced him to dish out horrible shit, and if he didn’t, those he loved would have paid the price.
“I think we should pay that castle a visit, just to be sure,” I said firmly, watching as Ristan squirmed in his chair. “We have to know if any survived, and if they did, we need to explain Ryder’s side of it. We will wait for the men, of course, but what other lead do we have? Ciara is out there, and she could be hurt since there was that much blood,” I exhaled, and mentally chided myself for even thinking that we may already be too late to save her.
“No fucking way,” Ryder growled, his hands fisted at his sides as he prowled the room. He continued until I stood in his path.
“We can’t just stand around not doing anything, Ryder!” I argued, my eyes narrowing as his glared. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“I have scouts out scouring the skies and searching every inch of Faery for her,” he snapped.
I hugged him, wrapping my arms around his waist and holding him tightly. “I’m afraid too, but Haggis said he saw a Dragon. Other shifters can’t take that form, and only a few creatures can hold it for more than a few minutes. What will it hurt to go look and make sure? We can reach it by nightfall, and if anyone catches a trace of her before then, you’ll know about it, right?” I asked.
“I razed the castle, Synthia. It’s nothing but a burned-out husk.”
“I’ve seen homeless people sleep in cardboard boxes.”
His lips tugged into a confused frown as he thought through my words. “Why would anyone live in a box?”
“Because they couldn’t afford rent.” I shrugged, not really wanting to discuss the details of how humans ended up homeless. He continued to stare. “When people can’t afford to pay for a place to sleep and the shelters fill up, they end up outside. Sometimes people prefer to be outside. So they just sleep in whatever they can find—listen, that’s not the point. I’m saying that if any survived, it would make sense that they would go home. It’s familiar, and no matter how bad the place was wrecked, it’s still their home.”
“If you go, you’ll see what I did to them.” His voice was soft, almost pained as he watched my face intently. “That’s not something I wanted you to see—ever.”
“No, I’ll see what your asshole father forced you to do to them. Being coerced with the life of another in the balance isn’t fair, and I know you, Ryder; I know you’d do whatever it took to protect your family.”
“Remember that,” he muttered. “Fine, we’ll go, but you will be wearing the armor of the Elite Guard, and seeing that you are insisting on this insanity, the full Guard will go with us, to be safe.”
“Fine,” I agreed, watching as he frowned. “Oh, for Pete’s sake, I’m not going to argue it. We could be facing Dragons!”
“Who the hell is Pete?” he demanded, and I burst out laughing.
“It’s just a saying,” I whispered as I stood on tiptoes to kiss him.
“When we get back, we need to discuss wedding plans,” he muttered. “The timing is bad, and with Ciara gone, we should probably postpone it, but I can’t. I want to marry you and the people need to see us continuing on even through the chaos. They need to know that we are going to be alright.”
“We will be alright, Fairy. Even if Faery is wide open, we’ll be okay. It’s us; we’ve been through too much now to not be okay.”
Once I’d glamoured the armor of the Elite Guard on, Ryder slid a lightweight, almost transparent cloak around my shoulders and fastened it at the base of my throat. It was a cloak that could act as camouflage, taking on the characteristics of my surroundings with a mere thought—and it held a spell in it so that those in the Elite Guard could easily track where I was. Ryder wore a similar one, and told me that it was a way to stay hidden from the enemy while being easily found and protected by the men.
We’d left the Horde castle with our minds on the unknown enemy who had infiltrated it. Darynda was still recovering in the infirmary with Eliran, and even though he hadn’t admitted it, I could tell that Zahruk was worried about her. I’d found him pacing outside her room. He’d left the moment I’d discovered him, so I had yet to speak with him about it, but the point seemed moot since the man was a concrete slab when it came to emotions, or discussing them.
My eyes wandered to Ryder, who seemed tense, and with good cause. The entire group seemed somber and tense; I guess it was because they’d either heard of the horrors of what had happened here under Alazander’s orders, or were participants to the carnage that must have transpired in this place. Ristan had explained a little more about what had happened on the day of the battle, and it had turned my stomach. The coffee I’d sipped turned bland and tasteless as I’d listened quietly to his words. Even when I thought that Dragons were mythical creatures, I never once thought they were weak and, logically, a Fae army VS a Dragon army defending their home should have lost. They didn’t lose because those shifters, who took their Dragon form, were no match for the man that was currently hidden by the magnificent wrapping of the Fae male who rode on the other side of me.
Because it had been centuries since any of these men had been here, we had taken huge war horses, and Ryder’s had red eyes. Zahruk, Dristan, and Aodhan were in wolf form, sniffing ahead to be sure no enemies lay in wait to attack us.
“After we crest the next hill, the castle should be visible,” Ryder announced grimly.
“It’s in a strategic location.” I wondered how anyone made it out this far on foot.
Once we crested the next hill, the charred remains of a once proud castle lay ahead on the horizon, positioned between the two moons of Faery. A statue of a Dragon in mid-flight stood forlornly in the courtyard, abandoned, covered in moss from centuries of neglect, yet the form was still visible.
The ride down the hill was tense. Skeletal remains that looked both Dragon as well as human-ish littered the fields where the start of the battle had occurred. Swords rested with the warriors that had once proudly wielded them, covered with debris from a battle that happened so long ago it was almost forgotten. I hadn’t expected this, to see the fallen that still lay upon the battlefield, never claimed for burial. It showed exactly the viciousness with which Ryder had carried out the assault under Alazander’s orders. No one had been left alive to bury their dead; no one had survived.
The wall of the castle was also covered in thick moss and plants that creeped up through the cracks to reach for the heat of the sun. Vibrant flowers sprouted from the greenery along the castle’s high walls. It looked as if it had been plucked from the pages of a historian’s book from the middle ages. Beautiful, yet abandoned and
The place was eerily silent. As silent as the dead who littered the ground and had become part of the land. It was green, as if the ground tried to conceal the horrors that had occurred with signs of life. Nothing moved, and the sound of the hooves of the horses was the only noise we could hear.
We dismounted in the courtyard, surrounded by walls that had been built to keep enemies out. But they never stood a chance against Ryder, a creature who’d fight the monsters of hell to protect his brothers. I knew the Horde King could only be killed by the Heir to the Horde, but what about the Heir? Could Ryder have been killed by another before he became King? What if Ryder had fallen in battle to the Dragons? Would his father have even cared? Probably not. Alazander probably would have gone to the next son or Heir to conquer or destroy anyone who fought against him or denied him his way.
We had yet to break the silence of the eerie courtyard, and I didn’t dare make a sound as I followed Ryder up the stairs to the castle. He pushed the doors open; his shoulders slumped as if he was ashamed of what had happened here.
“Alazander didn’t give you a choice,” I murmured, breaking the silence as his brothers circled us protectively.
“I was strong enough then to dethrone him. I chose not to,” Ryder replied, stepping over the threshold and into the entrance of the castle.
Bones scattered across the stone floors. Some of the remains still had weapons buried in their torsos, and others appeared to have died holding theirs. They were so old that they appeared to become part of the floors they’d died on. It was a massacre, and no matter what I said, Ryder carried the heavy guilt of it on his shoulders. It wasn’t until we reached the main hall that I flinched. Tiny bones covered the floor, crunching beneath our feet. You couldn’t step around them. There were just too many to avoid them.
“The Dragons rounded their children up and slaughtered them here when we breached the courtyard,” he mumbled distractedly. His hand reached for mine and I slipped my fingers through his as we continued deeper into the darkened interior. Light filtered in through the decaying drapes, exposing the horror of the charred walls and remains of the next room.
“What was in here?” I turned to get a better look at the little charred silhouettes on the floor.
“The young. Children; about a quarter of the dead children were mere infants. They slaughtered them with Dragon fire. They figured death by fire was better, anything would have been better than allowing us to be the ones to take them.”
“This wasn’t your fault,” I protested softly, and spread out my arms at the destruction. “This is really why you took me to the ruins, wasn’t it? You said that that place was a reminder of what could happen if we strayed from her designs for this world. You were also talking about what happened here.” I sucked in a huge lungful of air as pieces fell into place. “Gods, you told me that when you inherited the Heir brands that the Dragons formed. That was centuries before you were forced to do this—you were forced to wipe out a people that you shared kinship with.” My words became softer at the pain in his eyes. “The drawing in the sand of the two larger Dragons and the three baby Dragons…that was you, trying to pass something of what happened to them on to me and our children. It was guilt—your guilt, to be exact. Don’t you realize that those who are real monsters—like you think you are—don’t return to shrines of those they wronged? Monsters don’t care about the deaths they leave behind, and they sure as shit don’t return to honor them long after they are dead.”
“Look at the ashes, Synthia, and tell me a monster didn’t decide their fate. That a monster didn’t force their hand,” he demanded.
My eyes took in the ashes that still lingered upon the floor. I fought the sourness in my throat, and flinched as I ripped my hand away from Ryder to cover my mouth. I swallowed and shook my head. They’d killed their own babies to protect them.
“I told you I was a monster.” I could barely hear his words as he looked away.
“You didn’t have a choice. A monster chose their fate, for sure, but you’re not that monster. Your father did this, and you were his weapon of choice,” I bit out once I could speak without throwing up. “I’m not blaming you, so stop trying to make me, Fairy. In my world, at a place called Okinawa during World War II, something very similar happened. War is messy, and in all wars, the innocent suffer the most. The fault lies with the one at the top who gave the order to attack, not with the soldiers who were forced to follow the orders.”
“I blame me,” he mumbled. “They sure as fuck blame me.”
“They’re dead, the dead don’t hate. They don’t blame, they’re indifferent to it. I’m sure they made the best choice they could, and chose to take their children out of this life on their own terms. Who knows what your father would have done to them, or demanded you do to them?” I asked. “No one knows, so maybe they were right to do as they did. They wouldn’t have lived, so at least they didn’t suffer.”
“They burned them to death, Synthia,” Ristan murmured from where he stood across the room.
“Yes, but isn’t that better than being hurt repeatedly, or made to do horrendous shit at the bidding of some crazed lunatic with a power kick who won’t let you die? There’s always something worse that can happen. Always,” I growled. “You don’t know that he wouldn’t have kept them as pets, and yes, I know he’d done it to his prisoners before. I know what he did to my brother. I know what Ryder was forced to do to protect you and the others. Ryder is nothing like your father—he’ll never be like him.”
“The next room was where most of their females were killed.” Ryder’s voice was hollow, and he shuddered as if he’d gone back to when this had happened. “Some died more horrifically than the others.”
I didn’t want to see what had been done to the women. The soldiers’ bones had revealed how they’d fallen, and I could imagine the atrocities done to innocent women. Bones could tell a story, one that the living could try to piece together and understand. I felt horrible for the people who had once lived and died in this fashion. Ryder had been a pawn, one used by a monster that held his weaknesses over him in threat. He’d had no more power than the dead, who now lay long forgotten on the moss-and dust-covered floors we now stood on.
Ryder pushed the door open and dust particles filled the air. We held our breath, preparing to see what horrors the wooden doors hid from the world. I stepped into the room and paused. The room was clean, and lit candles sputtered with the rush of fresh air, melted wax pooling onto the freshly polished surface of a piano.
“What in the fucking Goonies,” Ristan whispered, his hand slipping into mine.
“What are you doing?” I whispered.
“I’m scared. Hold me, Flower,” he frowned at me as his lips struggled not to turn into a smile.
“This room wasn’t like this, during or after the siege,” Ryder growled, his eyes searching the room and turned to me.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean the Dragons survived. I told you about the homeless people; maybe someone or something else moved in. Something could have decided it was a safe place to stay,” I offered.
Ristan picked up a medallion from a freshly polished side table and held it up to the candlelight; it had a double-headed Dragon molded into it. I swallowed and somehow managed to swallow the groan that tried to bubble up.
“They could have thought it looked cool,” I offered. I was the master of Could-Have. “There’s no proof, remember what you told me? This is Faery, anything can happen. Never believe it until you actually see it. Haggis probably didn’t see a Dragon; he ran like a bitch to save his own ass. If it was my wife, I would have run after them, and I wouldn’t have stopped trailing them until I knew for damn sure what had taken her.”
“Kinky, Flower,” Ristan mused with a devilish grin.
“Stuff it, Demon,” I warned as I began examining the wal
“She has a point,” Aodhan agreed. “Someone is really into weaponry and High Fae battle tactics,” he mused, picking up the heavy tomes that were stacked on the floor beside a dingy mattress.
“Someone may have been researching how to try and destroy High Fae for revenge,” Ryder said, his eyes on me. “We need to get you back to the castle.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I growled. “Listen, I get that you have a shady as shit past—I know what I’m signing up for. I’m not some weak-ass girl who needs to be protected, Fairy. Whatever fucks with you will need protection from me, because Goddess be warned, I will fuck up anything and anyone who seeks to harm my future husband. Understand?”
“Where do I sign up for one like her?” Aodhan winked.
I had just started to search for a secret passageway when a noise sounded across the room. The entire Elite Guard, who’d followed us into the room, sprang into action. I was shoved back, my body hugged against the back of Ryder’s hard body. His weapon was drawn, and we waited to see who entered.
Clicking noises continued, and then the sound of rock sliding against rock echoed through the room. No one breathed or made a noise until fresh air filled the room. Ryder relaxed and I peeked around his wide back to find a shirtless Zahruk staring at us from a hidden doorway.
AMELIA HUTCHINS SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Unraveling DestinyEscaping DestinyFae Chronicles 01 - Fighting DestinySeducing DestinyTaunting DestinyDeath Before DawnClaiming the Dragon KingA Demon's Dark Embrace
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