“Is she ready?” another voice called.
The female, whose gray eyes were slanted and her hair every shade of brown, smiled crookedly. “She’s ready.”
I didn’t dare ask what for and stopped myself from looking over at Berron, who was still feigning sleep.
A male, tall and slim, entered the small rock-filled crypt and Ridlow was with him.
His eye was swollen and his lip cut, hands bound behind his back. Other than that, he seemed to be faring okay. “M-my quee—”
The male with eyes as dark as the walls around us slugged him in the gut. “Quiet.”
My tongue grew thick. I held Ridlow’s gaze while they removed his chest plate, cut off his tunic, and chained his hands to a hook in the ceiling before our cages.
“Now,” the male said, grabbing a knife from his boot. “Let us start with why we’re here.” He paused, turning to the female. “Corra, has she not asked why she’s here?”
Corra shook her head. “No. She was more curious about the stone.”
The male’s thin lips moved into his cheek as he set his bottomless eyes upon me. “But of course. Priorities, right? Power, or lack thereof, comes first.”
My lip curled. He chuckled, stepping closer to the bars and crouching down. “My, you are a sight, young queen.” His eyes raked over me, his tongue snaking out to wet his lips. The hilt of the blade rolled in his palms between his knees. “I should like to have my cock inside your mouth before we are through here.”
I snapped my teeth at him. “I urge you to try.”
His expression blanked, and then he forced a smile. “In your ass it is.”
I growled, which only served in earning me another irritating chuckle.
“Enough.” Corra snatched his knife and dug it straight into Ridlow’s stomach.
He howled, face crumpling as his feet struggled to find purchase.
“You’re supposed to ask a question before you start maiming,” I said, trying to sound as bored as possible. “But whatever, carry on.” It was one of my earliest tasks as I bloomed into maturity and my training became more intense.
My father had said if I were to train, I’d do it properly. He would make me watch as he tortured random people, and even went as far as killing some, for moments just like this.
I wasn’t grateful to him for much of anything, but I did have him to thank for my hardened heart.
The female glared at me while the male only grinned.
I flicked my fingers. “I have a horrible fucking headache because of you assholes, so please, hurry this along so we can get to the point of negotiation and release.”
Their cackles raised the hair on my nape.
“And what makes you think you’ll be leaving?” the male asked over Ridlow’s groans and whimpers as Corra plucked the knife from his stomach and set it behind her next to a large metal trunk. From inside it, she then selected an angry looking dagger, its blade rusted. Her finger danced across the serrated edge.
“Why? Because I have something you want, of course.” I pushed tendrils of hair back from my face, doing my best to ignore the wet tangles. “You have no way of retrieving it if I’m dead.”
“You should be dead,” Corra growled. “You’re a monster, a blight on this land, just like your father grew to be.” She spat inside my cage, and though I heard it land on the dirt near my knee, I didn’t remove my eyes from hers.
“So kill me.” I spread my hands. “But if you do, expect wrath like you’ve never seen before, as well as a dead king.”
I’d left documents with Mintale and Truin weeks ago, stating what was to become of the king should something happen to me. Zadicus would rule, and Raiden would be executed within seconds of the news of my death, his head to be displayed on the tallest turret of the castle. All the better for the kingdom to watch the crows pick at his flesh and eyes.
And then Zad was to take back control of the Sun Kingdom by any means necessary.
A task I should’ve seen to over a year ago instead of wallowing in a multitude of festering anguish and rage.
“King Raiden,” the male finally said, pacing with his hands behind his back across the tiny expanse of dirt in front of me and Berron. “Where is he?”
I picked at the dirt imbedded beneath my nails. “He was exiled.”
Ridlow screamed as the dagger entered the knife wound, the female twisting her hand.
I waited for his screams and sobs to die down, and for my clenching muscles to relax. “You’ve heard differently, I take it.” I’d known they had. It was only a matter of time. Though I’d be sure to make an example of whoever had spread the news.
I tilted my head, giving our captors a more thorough inspection. “Who were you to him, anyway? Henchmen? Harem members? Staff?”