The other prisoners look on with caution.
The big one glares at me, just as I expected. "I won't tell you anything—"
I kick him in the knee. Hard. So hard his bones break and his leg bends backward, unnaturally. He collapses into a heap, screaming.
The other Fae tremble in their beds. One, a young lad, pees himself, staining the white sheets yellow.
I turn to them. "Tell me where they have taken the Princess, or you will share his pain."
A young woman speaks up, the one I saved from further torture. "If we found her, we were to take her to a cave in the mountains, one with a stone door, I can show you."
"Where does the door lead?" I ask.
Her lower lip trembles and a tears fall from her eyes. "I don't know."
I cannot afford to have sympathy right now. I draw my sword and point it at her neck.
Her face fills with dread. "I swear by the Five, I do not know. I do not know."
I study her trembling, crying form. She is full of fear. Desperation. But no deceit. Why would she tell me about the cave but keep the rest a secret, at the cost of her life?
I turn to the others. "Anyone else know of the door?"
They shake their heads. The young man says, "Someone was waiting there to collect the princess, that's all we know, honest."
"There is one more thing," whimpers the woman. "I heard the commanders talking of it one night over wine. A spy. A spy in the Seven Realms."
I grip my sword tighter. "Who?"
"I heard no name. But they're in an elevated position, know all sorts of things."
I glance at Kal. It can't be him. I will not entertain the idea, but what if…
I sigh, lowering my sword and returning it to the scabbard. It seems only a few know of the door's purpose, and I've yet to find them.
I turn to Kal, whose face is impassive. "Tend to the man's knee. Have the rest fed and bathed."
He bows. "I can assure you my lord, I am not the—"
I grip his shoulder. "I trust you Kal. Be certain in this, and go about your work." Without another word, I march out of the castle.
Baron follows me, his paws leaving large prints in the snow. Wolves howl in the night, but he does not join them. He is set in his purpose like me.
We find Kayla by the forest, where a team of vampires, Shades, and slaves work to cut trees for the rebuilding of houses. A giant pine falls to the ground, shaking the earth. Kayla orders a Shade to load small logs into a wagon pulled by giant black horses. Her voice is calm, but assertive, delivering command after command.
"How are things progressing?" I ask her.
She shouts an order to tie down the logs to the wagon, then turns to me. "Well enough, despite the cold. The men are bringing up an invention Ace created. Something that should help us move the wood faster. We will have the city rebuilt soon."
"No," I say, my brain spinning with new plans forged from threats. "You must instruct everyone to build fortifications along the rivers."
Kayla stares at me, her eyes wild. "Forts? We defeated their army. Now is the time to rebuild."
"You will do as I say," I growl. "The Fae will return, and we must be prepared." I want to tell her about the Druid's threats, but she must stay focused on her task. All my people must. Telling them now will only distract them and hurt us in the end.
Thunder rumbles in the distance. It is a bad enough time to build as it is, but if it rains…. My people must be at their best.
But Kayla is not an idiot. She sees the worry in my eyes. "Have you learned anything from the prisoners?" she asks, arms crossed over her chest as she side-eyes me.
"They know of the door, but not what lies behind it."
She nods, looking lost in thought. "I wonder if…"
"Nothing." She waves her hand in the air dismissively. "I thought I remembered something, but… it's nothing."
I nod. "Very well then. Transport the wood to the rivers. I will contact you later with further plans."
I turn with Baron at my heels and head back to the castle before she can respond. She knows something is off, but this isn't the time to question me.
Back in my room, I set to building a fire in my hearth. My servants have all been sent to aid in rebuilding, leaving me alone to tend to myself. I enjoy the silence, the peace, the solitude. Or I would, if the threat of the annihilation of my people wasn't hanging over my head, along with the loss of Arianna.
I undress, knowing I must rest, as I've barely slept since Arianna was taken.
A screech freezes me. Loud, all-consuming. Outside.
I run for the window, my stomach coiling.
I am the Prince of War. The Prince of Death.
But when I look outside, I know fear.
A phoenix blazes through the sky. Its wings span bridges. Its claws are large enough to tear apart a house. It cries out, a high screech, full of malice and dread, and I know my entire kingdom can hear it. Tonight, they will all look upon the sky, and they will see fire.
The phoenix dives over the forest. The forest where Kayla and my people work.
It glides over the tall trees, sparking them with red flames.
Setting the forest on fire.
Men and women yell and scream and run to fetch water.
But they will not contain this raging inferno.
The world burns.
And our hope burns with it.
"Yours is the sign of Lucian."