Unlocked, page 1
Copyright © 2018 by Casey L. Bond. All rights reserved.
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This book is a work of fiction and does not represent any individual, living or dead. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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Published in the United States of America.
Table of Contents
ALSO BY Casey L. Bond
Riches to Rags
Glamour of Midnight
The Frenzy Series
The Keeper of Crows Duology
Keeper of Crows
Keeper of Souls
The Harvest Saga
“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” – C.S. Lewis
Once upon a time, in a land far away, and in the time of fairies, there was a kingdom ravaged by a deadly plague. Fueled by magic, it swept over the land without mercy and the people of Paruth fell swiftly and violently ill.
The stench of blood and rotting flesh so permeated the air, that even the sea breeze couldn’t dissipate it.
Unable to help their people, and in an effort to protect themselves, the King ordered his men to bar the doors to the palace. But it was no use. The illness was already inside…
Someone was coming. I hid in the corner of the room, blending with the shadows. My fingertips dug into the cold, gritty stone at my back. If someone was looking for a remedy to the plague, I didn’t have it. And if they were looking to sacrifice me in order to stop the destruction, it wouldn’t work. The dark fae of the Southern Isle wouldn’t let one soul escape their wrath. The power of their magic stung my nose and made my lips and ears tingle uncomfortably.
“Hildegard?” The queen’s voice was strained. She was holding her gown up as she rushed off the bottom step and into my workshop. I stepped from the darkness, removing my hood. She hurried across the room to me, taking my hands in hers. Her fingers were trembling. “We’ve barred the palace doors.”
“It won’t help,” I warned. The dark fae’s magic could slither beneath the doors and seep in through the cracks, even through those in the hinges. Barred doors and boarded windows wouldn’t help. They might as well have left everything wide open.
“That’s why I’m here,” she pleaded, her lips wobbling over the words. “I need your help.”
“I already told King Henry I cannot spell the castle or its inhabitants. The magic spreading over this land is from dark fae; full-blooded fae who’ve been alive and wielded magic for centuries. I can’t stop it or slow it down, nor can I protect anyone in Paruth. Their magic is too overwhelming.”
“That’s not what I need, and not what I’ve come to ask of you.”
“Name it, and if it is within my power, I’ll see that it’s done.” I owed her my life, and much more than that now. I’d brought this curse upon them, this cruel vengeance, because the dark fae found me and were punishing her for harboring me.
Before I came to Paruth, I lived on the Southern Isle, which lay along the coast on the southernmost tip of Ringsted, with six other half-fae witches in our coven. As half-fae, we’d inherited power from the fae who sired us. Those fae had somehow learned that by killing us, their powers would revert to them. With that knowledge, they hunted us mercilessly.
We evaded them for many years, constantly moving, until we found a remote corner of the world. We thought we were safe. We thought they had given up.
But one night, they found us.
The attack that left my sisters dead left me on the verge of death, too. One fae had gotten ahold of me and peeled pounds of flesh from my bones. Before I managed to break free and fly away, the dark fae had spelled my wounds, holding them open. He was determined to kill me, one way or another. And the loathing hatred in his eyes told me exactly who he was. He was my father. The one who sired me. He had passed a small portion of his power on to me and he wanted it back.
I crashed onto the beach outside of the palace of Paruth, where Queen Tessa had been taking a midnight stroll. She found me and helped me to her palace, where she and the human healer spent painstaking hours stitching me back together.
Once the wounds were closed, the magic he used to hold them open dissipated. Using the most powerful spell I could summon, my flesh became new again. Not a scar or even a blemish remained. As I turned my forearms looking at the flawless flesh, I realized how close to death I had been, and vowed that very moment that I would repay her kindness and mercy when she decided she needed both. She invited me to stay and choose a room of my own in the palace. I’d chosen the darkest corner, and decided I would only stay for a few days.
During those days, the Queen and I became fast friends. She asked me to stay longer, and told me there were no fae in Paruth. Until a few days ago, that was true.
She pressed her eyes tightly shut, tears squeezing out of them and running down her face. “I want you to take Raya away from here, and I need you to take her right now.”
“Where shall we go?” I couldn’t take her to the Southern Isle without endangering her, and now that the fae were hunting us in The Seven Kingdoms, nowhere was safe.
“You have to take her somewhere this plague cannot reach her.”
The only place I could think of was mercilessly remote… “I know of a place,” I finally muttered, glancing around the room. We nee
“I can fly her to safety.”
She wiped her cheeks. “I fear the rest of us are already damned. My husband thinks we’ve outsmarted the illness, but you and I know better.” She clutched her stomach. Was she already ill, or was the thought of sending her only daughter away with me making her nauseas?
I strode to the back wall and gathered my broom. I hadn’t flown since the day I crashed onto the Paruthan beach. I turned to the Queen, my hand tightening on the broom handle. “Where is she?”
“In her chamber. Where will you take her?”
“There is a small island in the center of the Sea of Bones. Tell your sailors to look for the light and they will find us.”
“The old lighthouse…” she whispered. “It’s perfect.”
Gathering fruit, bread, and a skin of water, I wrapped them in a long shawl and tied the ends tightly. Then we took the secret passageways behind the thick palace walls, passages that hadn’t been taken for a long time, judging by the dense cobwebs and footprints we left in the thick dust as we carved our way up and into the palace, emerging from behind a large tapestry in the princess’s chamber wall.
The girl rose from her settee and stood, staring between the two of us. She had her father’s brow, but the rest of her was a reflection of her mother. Pale hair like moonlight. Fair skin like the snow that fell here most of the year. And the way she set her jaw? She had her mother’s spirit as well.
“Are you afraid of me?” I asked her, holding a candle up so she could see me. It wasn’t dark, but there were no windows in the room and her balcony door was sealed. I was beautiful, but my slight fangs and pointed ears were common in faery horrors that every child enjoyed until the images conjured by their imaginations grew more monstrous in the night. Or until the human children realized the frightening creatures of legend were real.
The child shook her head. “I’m not afraid. You’re my mother’s friend.”
I gave her a smile. “Then let’s get ready to leave, hmm?” I handed the shawl of food and water to the young girl. “You’ll carry this. It should fit over your shoulder.” She threw her mother a questioning glance, but obeyed, securing the shawl pack over her head. It hung tightly across her back. The wind wouldn’t bother it as long as the knots held.
“Say your goodbyes,” I told them, watching from my periphery as they both cried and hugged and kissed one another’s cheeks. I blasted the doors to her balcony open with a gust of wind.
“Please don’t send me away, Mother,” the Princess whimpered. Her fingers dug into her mother’s wrists as the Queen crouched down to look in her daughter’s eyes and held Raya’s small face in her hands.
“You must go with her. It’s the only way to keep you safe.”
“What about you and Father?”
The Queen gave her a watery smile. “We’re very strong, and much older than your twelve years. Now, you must go. Hildegard will be with you. Be good and mind her as you do me. I’ll send for you both when it’s safe to return. I promise.”
“But—” the child tried to argue again.
The Queen put her finger to the child’s lips. “Not another word. This is what must be done. You’re the most important thing to have ever happened to me. I won’t let this plague take you, too. Not if I can prevent it. Besides, maybe she can come back for us.” The Queen glanced at me, her eyes pleading with me to go along with her lie.
I had to peel the girl away from her mother, but in the end, she sat on my broom behind me, soft heaves wracking her body. “Hold on tight, Princess.”
Her hands locked against my middle and we took to the air. I flew north with her, the cool summer breeze tearing over our skin and through our hair, toward the old lighthouse in the Sea of Bones.
The Princess clung to me, but didn’t make a sound as we raced over the ocean. The whitecaps blurred beneath us and the wind tore over our skin and bodies. I pushed harder. The more miles we put between the Paruthan shore and us, the better.
The lighthouse tower rose from the depths, as if defying the ocean around it and shouting that it would not be conquered. It would not succumb to the storms, to the waves, to the wind. To magic or plague. To vengeance or evil. And neither would we.
It was a monument that hearkened to a time when it was safer to sail these waters. Since then, the sands beneath the waves shifted, causing more ships to run aground. Others sank when their hulls were gouged by croppings of jagged rocks hidden beneath the surface. Now, it was rare to see any ships sail these waters.
They called it the Sea of Bones now because that was what it looked like—parts of ships sticking up out of the water like a rotten fish on the shore. But this was the only safe place for the Princess. We could stay here until the Queen sent a ship to let us know all was well. Assuming she survived. I pushed the thought from my mind. I made a promise to take Raya away. I would see that the Princess survived the plague.
As Raya’s warmth sank into my back, every breath she took was a reminder that I let her mother down. I helped take Princess Raya away, but her mother was still in danger. And her mother was the one I owed my life to.
The Princess stiffened when we drew near to the tower, and she took in the tiny island it sat upon.
It was barren, with the exception of a few thin vines and tufts of grass near the tower’s base. There were no trees; nothing but rocks and sand and the lighthouse that rose grandly into the air. Her hands tightened around me as we descended.
“It’s okay. The sand will be soft,” I told her over my shoulder, although I doubted she heard me. My thick, dark hair was whipping all around, probably stinging her face. She kept her head down and her forehead to my back as we touched down. “It’s safe here,” I added, louder, but wasn’t sure if that was entirely true. The dark fae had managed to find me in Paruth. What was to say they couldn’t find me here? My presence might endanger Princess Raya, but I couldn’t abandon a child.
I helped her off the broom and started toward the lighthouse. Her legs were shorter than mine, but she kept pace with me. I could hear the trembling of her fingers, even over the gusting wind. I pushed against the door, but it was stuck. “Stand back,” I ordered. She listened, moving backward a few feet. Using my shoulder, I hit the door hard. It still wouldn’t budge, so I pointed my finger at it and called the wind, blowing the stubborn thing open. It slammed against the stone wall behind it, making Raya jump.
She glanced inside warily.
“It’s okay. No one’s here. No one’s kept this lighthouse in many years. I used to come here, you know, after the last keeper left. Sometimes, it’s nice to spend time alone with your thoughts without outside distraction.” My coven had hidden here for a short time.
I used my broom’s bristles to knock down cobwebs as we made our way up the steps, which were in surprisingly good condition. Most everything was. The whole place needed a good scrubbing, but we could see to that soon enough. Raya used her hand to dust off a small counter near the hearth. She eased her head out of the makeshift sack I’d made her and began unpacking the food I brought.
“Hildegard?” she called out as she arranged the oranges and apples in a small bowl.
“Yes?” I turned to find her clutching the bowl for dear life. She didn’t look strong, but the bowl was very old and I could hear the ceramic straining under her grip.
“You’re going back for them, right?” her voice wavered.
I was in the middle of looking around the room to see if we needed anything else, but paused at her question. “The plague spreads quickly. I’m not sure if I should leave you so soon,” I answered diplomatically.
She set the bowl down and wrapped her arms around her middle. “They’re going to
That’s why she was holding her stomach.
I pursed my lips together, thinking. I could go back for them. I was fairly certain the plague wouldn’t affect me like it would the Queen, since I was only half-human. My fae heritage often kept me from getting human illnesses, and this plague was designed to kill them. And leave me alive so the dark fae could find me…
I could go back for them, I decided. I would bring the Queen first.
“I’ll go back, but not before I safeguard this place for you.”
“What do you mean?”
I poured the skin of water into an empty basin on the counter beside her, muttering a spell over it and the fruit and bread she’d carried. I spelled the firewood supply and the tower itself, and then... I cast a spell over her. Because nothing in life is ever certain, and I wanted to make sure she was guarded in case something happened to me.
“From this well, the water shall never run dry.
From this bowl, the fruit of life shall never rot.
With this grain, the body shall be fortified and strong.
With this wood, the tower will be warm the whole year long.
And you, my princess, I grant you protection from any and all harm.”
It wouldn’t help her if she had the plague. My power wasn’t strong enough to stop magic so intense and full of hatred. But it could help her heal if she was wounded.
I eased my hand down her hair and told her I would try to save her parents. I wished I could have woven a spell of protection over the Queen, over everyone in Paruth, but my magic was almost completely nullified by the plague’s magic. It could not stand up against the power of a full-blooded fae.
But I still had the ability to control the wind, which meant if the Queen was still alive, I could rescue her. After, I would go back for the King, and then for anyone else left alive. It was a small act of rebellion against the dark fae, but one I would risk, despite the danger to myself. These people did not deserve to be slaughtered in such a cruel way, for doing nothing more than being kind to me.
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