The Gargoyle Gets His Girl

Page 52

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“Because she wants to be queen?” Willa asked.

“Because she wants to return to the old ways. Becoming queen is just a way to ensure that happens.” Melinna slanted her eyes at Nick’s cell.

“Old ways?” Nick snorted. “She’s got a rock troll under her thumb and at least one gargoyle that I’ve seen, so if you’re saying she wants to return to enslaving other species, it’s already happening.”

Melinna frowned. “She has some…servants.”

“They’re slaves. Call them what they are. And we didn’t have them when I was a child,” Willa said. “I don’t remember anything about slave bracelets and conscripted armies of trolls and gargoyles.”

“Because those histories were purposefully hidden,” Melinna answered. “That time was behind us.”

“How did all this happen then?”

Jarrel shook his head. “Kyanna. She was too good of a student. Her abilities attracted the attention of…someone of great power. That person befriended her, gave her access to the archives and the old histories and convinced her that the old ways were worth returning to for the good of the kingdom.”

Willa frowned. “Who is this person of great power?”

“Someone close to the king.” Melinna looked toward the door and guards and lowered her voice. “Someone already set on changing things. That person is no longer on that path, but Kyanna is. And now she’s determined that the course must be stayed.”

Clearly, her parents didn’t want to name names. Fine. Willa didn’t need to know that much detail right now. She crossed her arms. “What’s Kyanna’s goal then?”

Jarrel’s mouth bent at an odd angle. “To rebuild an army of the enslaved.”

“What the hell for?” Nick asked.

The muscle in Jarrel’s jaw twitched. “Our mines are not producing like they once did. They’re sufficient for our needs, but won’t allow the kingdom to grow.”

Nick grunted. “Let me guess, there are mines nearby that would allow that, but the fae don’t own them.”

Jarrel shook his head. “It’s rock troll country.”

“So she builds an army of those she can capture, then uses them to attack the trolls and enslaves all of them, enabling her to mine their land.”

“Pretty much.” Jarrel took Melinna’s hand. “There are few of us strong enough or willing enough to go against her. She will bring war to the kingdom again.”

“She needs to be stopped. You want to help?” Willa asked.

“Yes.” Her mother nodded eagerly. “What can we do?”

Willa pointed across the dungeon to the cuff she’d removed from Nick’s wrist. “Bring that to me.”

Melinna grabbed it and handed it over. “That can’t be all.”

“It’s not.” Willa cupped the bracelet in her hands and concentrated on it. The metal was weak from being superseded by her own magic. With a forceful mental shove, she disintegrated the cuff into dust. She brushed her hands off and looked back at her parents, who clearly regarded her with new respect. “You can tell Kyanna I’ve changed my mind. I want to work with her after all.”

Nick held his tongue until after Willa’s parents had left. “Please tell me this is all part of your plan.”

“It is. Just trust me.”

He leaned against the wall that separated them. “I do trust you. But I don’t like being left out. I’m supposed to be protecting you. Hard to do that when I don’t know what you’re planning.”

“What I’m planning is crazy. Which is why I’m not sure I should tell you just yet.”

“Because you think I’ll try to talk you out of it?”

“Maybe.”

“I won’t. Not if you think it’s the right thing to do.”

“I do.” She took a few breaths. The silence lapsed into minutes, and he could tell she was struggling with something. When she spoke again, anger lay beneath her words. “I can’t believe my sister intends to do such awful things. But then, she put us here.”

Willa made a low noise in the back of her throat. “Blood isn’t supposed to do that to blood.”

He stayed quiet for a moment, thinking about his Ranger brothers. In many ways, they were the only family he’d had. “There are greater ties than blood.”

“You’re absolutely right. I already trust you more than any of my family. Except Shay. I’d trust her.”

“Your parents seemed genuinely sorry.”

“Too little, too late.”

Her response was quick and born out of the bad memories their appearance must have dredged up. He scratched at the pitted metal bar under his thumb. “You aren’t going to forgive them?”

“Would you?”

“Yes. I’d love to have my parents back.”

There was a long pause. “That was insensitive of me. Sorry. What happened to them?”

“Head-on collision. Tractor trailer. Driver drifted off, crossed the center line. That was it.”

“How old were you?”

He closed his eyes, but the pictures from the newspaper were still there. “Thirteen months. My mother shifted into her stone form at the last second and used her body to shield me. She’s the only reason I lived.”

“Oh, Nick.” There was no anger or betrayal in Willa’s voice now. Just sadness and sympathy. “I’m so sorry.”

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