Silver Flame – Karpov Kinrade

I’ve been imprisoned before, but those prisons were cloaked with finery to give the illusion of freedom. The Fae still treated me like a Princess, even while locking me up. Now there is no finery, no illusion. The bars are steel. The hard-packed dirt beneath my feet reeks of urine and blood. The straw-filled mat that serves as my bed is covered in mold and insects. It’s rough like sandpaper and worse than the floor. There’s a pot for relieving myself in—the only “comfort” I’m afforded. My hands and face are coated with mud. My eyes ache from crying. I see no other cells past the bars. I hear no one but my guards—who do not speak to me. Even Yami has abandoned me. He has disappeared, and I no longer feel his presence. I will spend the last of what remains of my life in this cell.

Alone. My mother will perish in hell forever. And Fen. Fen is gone. Memories flash through my mind. The stone hallway. Ace and Levi on either side of me. Ace stepped back, protecting me with his frail body. “I believe I will be claiming my month with the princess, brother. From now on, she is under my protection.

If you wish to kill her…” Ace paused, staring straight into his brother’s eyes, “…you must kill me first.” Levi’s ice-blue eyes softened, but only for a moment. He pointed his silver sword at me. “She is the enemy, brother. You must see this. You must step aside.” “No,” Ace said with a power to his voice I’d never heard before. He ran a hand through his dark, messy hair, his eyes intent on the Prince of Envy. “The Princess deserves to face trial before sentenced to death.” It was sometimes easy to forget the dreamy-eyed inventor was actually a powerful vampire-demon in his own right.

Not someone to trifle with. “I don’t want to hurt you,” said Levi, staring at his brother, his jaw clenched hard, a lock of whiteblond hair failing across his forehead. I’ve seen how he is with Ace. Of all his brothers, Levi has a soft spot for the Prince of Sloth. He shook with rage, but he did not attack. Not yet. Ace’s presence was enough. Enough to give pause. Ace limped forward, keeping his body between Levi and me. He stifled a moan from the pain the movement caused, and I could tell he was still badly wounded.

If it came to a fight, we were screwed. I held Spero, my sword. It was broken in battle but had been reborn from the magic of Midnight Star, half black metal, half steel. Yami was invisible to all but me, curled around my neck shivering. I wanted to slap the silly dragon. If he’d just embrace his powers we’d stand a chance. A giant dragon with the magic Yami wields could fight all the princes of hell if necessary. But Yami still didn’t know how to control his power anymore than I did. One minute it was there, the next, just a shadow of a memory. And there is nothing more infuriating than knowing you have power but not knowing how to channel it.

Especially when your fate is sealed, and your days are numbered. The thump of boots against stone flooring reverberated through the hall, and Zeb, Niam and Dean turned a corner running. They froze, frowning at the scene before them. Levi faced his brothers, about to say something, but I had to speak first. I needed them to side with me. “Fen is dying!” I yelled. “I must get back to him.” Only Zeb and Dean twitched at the mention of Fen. The others didn’t even seem to hear. Their cold gazes were fixed on me.

On my ears. “How is this possible?” whispered Zeb. The Prince of Gluttony normally maintained a polished look, with his dark hair perfectly coiffed and his clothes pristine. But now he was bloodied with battle, disheveled, adrenaline running high, like us all. “She is the last of the High Fae,” Levi said. “That is why the Druids awakened shortly after she returned here.” Niam and Zeb raised their swords higher. Ace moved closer to me. “She is no threat, brothers. She saved me, remember.

She’s trying to save Fen now.” This time, the princes softened at the mention of their brother. “Where is Fen?” asked Zeb. “Show me to him!” Levi scoffed. “Fen can wait. Don’t you see, brothers? This is another scheme. Another tale woven to distract us from what truly matters. Her. She is the High Fae. If we kill her, the Druids will return to slumber.

Peace will return to our lands. We must end her now. Before it’s too late.” Niam nodded, moving forward with arm raised as if in battle. His dark skin was splashed with blood, his shaved head dusted with dirt and sweat, a savage glint in his ebony eyes. “Step aside, Ace. I do not want to hurt you, but if what Levi says is true, the Princess is an enemy.” Ace gripped his staff, his knuckles turning white. “You will not kill her.” “No,” said Niam.

The others glanced at him, their faces puzzled. The Prince of Greed lowered his sword in a peaceful gesture. “We must do this properly. We must hold court. We must have a trial. This is neither the time nor place to dispense justice.” Levi sighed. He shared a look with each of his brothers. “We are the justice of this land. Is it not our duty to protect our people? To end this war? Is it not better to sacrifice one life to save thousands more?” He was swaying them.

I could see it in the way they raised their swords, in the way their eyes filled with rage. “Please,” I said. “Hold a trial if you must, but let me go to Fen. He needs medicine.” I held up what little I had been able to find as evidence. Zeb ran a hand through his short brown hair. He turned to the princes at his side. “You can deliberate all you wish. I go to find Fen.” “So do I,” said Ace.

He glared at Levi. “If you choose to fight us, if you choose to kill the future Queen, then you put yourself above the law, above all other princes, as if you are King already…” Dean and Niam seemed to ponder the words. For the first time, I thought the princes might actually let me go. Then Levi laughed. “Don’t be fools. You dare leave this to trial? With Asher and Fen present? You know they care for her more than they do our kingdom. Oh, Asher plays the slave master, but he is soft at heart. And Fen… Fen does not see clearly anymore.” The princes said nothing. They knew his words to be true.

Even I could not argue. Whatever urge Zeb had to find his brother seemed to fade. Levi turned to me, raising his sword. “You will not fool me again, Fae. I will take your life, and then I will find my brother.” He took a step forward, but Dean surprised us all by moving in front of him and laying a hand on his chest. “And what of the contract? We are all bound to it. She must choose the next king.” “Why do we need another king?” asked Levi. “We have ruled our own realms these past few months.

Why put one of us above all? We shall be the Seven Lords. Seven Kings for Seven Realms. And with her gone, we will rule in peace.” This gave them all pause, even Ace, and the hall was silent for a moment, before Levi spoke again, his voice calmer, more collected… more persuasive. “The Princess has deceived us. I will never have her as my Queen. Will you, brothers? Will you be ruled by the High Fae? A liar and a traitor? Will you surrender our world, our people, over to the Fae by making one of them our ruler?” Ace spoke softly. “The Fae used her as a pawn in this game. She’s not responsible for this war.” Zeb clutched his dagger, thinking.

“That may be true, but without her, the Druids would still slumber. Without her, my people—the ones who died today—would yet live.” My heart broke a little at that. I thought the Prince of Gluttony was on our side. He’d always been kind to me, and liked by Fen. But could I blame him, really? He’d watched friends die today, all because I woke the Druids and brought war to them. If it were my friends, my family, the people I loved in danger, would I feel any differently? I could see that all but Ace had turned against me. Niam wanted a trial. Zeb wished to avenge his people. Dean wanted to be his own ruler.

And Levi… Levi wanted me dead. I tried to think of something else I could say. Something else I could do to sway them. “Please, I am not your enemy. I fought the Fae to save Fen. I fought the Fire Druid.” No one moved. Even in this, they did not believe me. Ace spoke one final argument. “Brothers, do you not remember who brought her here?” he asked.

“It wasn’t the Fae. It was our father who arranged for Arianna to enter this world. Who arranged for her to be Queen. He must have had a reason.” “Our father is dead,” Levi said. “And have you learned who killed him?” A new voice filled the stone halls. A familiar voice. A voice that nearly destroyed my composure. We all turned to see Fen standing there, shirtless, his heavy boots almost shaking the castle, the white globe lights faltering in the power of his presence. Asher stood beside him, a worried frown on his face.

Fen held his sword, a large blade of thick grey steel etched with runes. And then I noticed the tree tattoo covering his body… and I saw his ears. Fae ears. How could this be? An illusion spell? Some kind of trick? The hall remained silent, all eyes on Fen as he spoke. “Perhaps you thought the Fae conceived his death? Perhaps you thought Arianna orchestrated it? No. I killed him.” His voice thundered through the halls, ripping the air apart and pulling it back together. The other princes were stone cold, frozen in place by his words. Fen stepped forward. “Your father told me of his plans for peace… he spoke of weakness.

So I poisoned him.” I could feel the anger brewing around me. All but Asher were struck by his words. Even Ace dropped his sword a fraction, doubt clouding his face. Why was Fen saying these things now? Here? Why was he pitting himself against his brothers? Saying ‘your father’ instead of ‘our father?’ Making himself the other. But then I looked around and I saw. I saw what he was doing. And why. All eyes had shifted to him. The brothers edged forward, alert, focused.

He did this for me. To give me a chance to run. But I couldn’t leave him there, with them. I couldn’t let him destroy himself to save me. I moved to go to him, to stop him, to save him before he started a war with his brothers. Before I could reach Fen, Ace’s arm reached out to stop me. His grip was tight, unbreakable. Even in his weakness he was strong. My heart raced and bile rose in my throat. I turned to him, to challenge him, to explain that we had to help Fen, but Ace’s face had grown cold and distant.

Hard. Tears filled my eyes, and I brushed them away with my free hand and tried to get Fen’s attention, but he was deliberately not looking at me. He was still speaking. Still confessing. Still riling them up, and Ace wasn’t immune to his words. He had helped Fen and me search for their father’s killer. The whole time, Fen lied to him. Even if there was good reason behind it, I could see Ace did not understand. His eyes flicked back to the Prince of War, now an outsider, a Fae, an other. The Prince of Sloth was on an edge.

And the way he fell would be dictated by Fen’s next words. “And then, you chose me to find the murderer,” Fen said. “Oh how I laughed at you all behind your backs. How I gloated to myself, brothers. But then again, we were never kin, were we?” Dean drew his sword and roared. “You bastard! We should have never treated you as one of our own!” Fen’s eyes fell, a quizzical expression on his face, as if he had just learned something new. But he quickly returned to his cold, hard, disregarding performance. And that’s what it was, a performance. “I understand now why I’ve always been better than you. Stronger than you.

” He stepped forward, toward his brothers. “I have the power of the Fae and vampire. I have the Earth Spirit at my side.” Eyes flashed to the white wolf baring his teeth to the right of Fen. Baron was the Earth Spirit? Tauren? But how? By their faces, it was clear the brothers didn’t know this part. Fen was saying he wasn’t just Fae but a Druid as well. The Earth Druid. But it couldn’t be true, could it? Ace spoke first, his voice soft in the echoing stone hall. “Our mother… our mother said she found a Fae babe on the battlefield that she turned to save its life. She said nothing of Spirits.

” His words sent a chill down my spine. Fen wasn’t lying. But then… Did he just find out? Or had he kept his true heritage secret from me? Me. After all we shared. “It’s true,” Asher said, speaking for the first time. “I was there, remember? I saw the wolf enter the infant. It took physical form many years later.” Niam turned his eyes to Asher, his jaw hard. “All this time, Asher… you knew? You knew he was the Earth Druid and you said nothing?” “Our mother knew,” Asher said. “She swore me to secrecy.

Swore me just as she did you, to never speak of Fen’s heritage. Would you have broken your oath to her?” At that the princes said nothing. The rage and passion that passed between them was fading into resignation. Old relationships were breaking, making way for something new. Asher’s words gave me a brief comfort. Asher lied to his brother, but Fen never lied to me. Not about this. He didn’t know. But… Oh god. I did this to him.

I made him the enemy. Fen and I needed to get out of here. Now. Before this shifted into something deadlier. After all, I was the reason Druids had any power at all. And now that included the Prince of War. Fen caught my eyes and held them. I could tell he wanted me to leave him. To save myself. But how could he think I would do that? How could I leave him here to face the wrath of his brothers alone? Stupid, foolish man.

I shook my head, but he ignored me, continuing. “Will none of you avenge your father?” he roared. “Is your fear of me too great? Do you piss your pants at the sight of me? Come!” He beat his chest with his fists. “Come at me, brothers.” His last word dripped with mockery. That was all it took for Levi to charge him. Fen jumped into the air and their swords clashed. I pulled at Ace’s hold on me again, but his grip tightened. He looked angry. His jaw clenched as he watched his brothers fight.

“What are you doing?” I hissed at him. “Fen needs our help. Let me go.” Ace turned his hard glare toward me. “I think you’ve done enough to help, Princess.” His words bit, and I recoiled in shock. This wasn’t the Ace I’d come to know. Fen fought hard, but Dean, Levi, Niam and even Zeb surrounded him, and it quickly became apparent that Fen hadn’t yet recovered fully from his near death, despite his posturing. Even with Baron fighting at his side, he was weak. And he was losing.

Asher stood to the side, and I could see in his eyes he wished to help. Yet he did nothing. I nudged Yami, pleading him to do something. “Use your powers. I know you can!” Yami recoiled, shaking with fear. “Please,” I cried. And then he threw himself into the fight, spitting blue fire into the fray. His flames crackled with lightning, setting a wall tapestry ablaze. I felt myself fill with rage as Yami grew bigger in size. But Levi thrashed a sword through the air, slicing into my dragon’s shoulder before he could take his full form.

The blade cut deep. Yami screamed and dissolved into dust as I bent over in pain, feeling the blow in my own body as my dragon left. I fell to my knees, and Ace lost his grip on me. I groaned in pain, spit flying from my mouth. Fen turned at the sound. His face filled with sorrow. Then rage. He ran to me, and that was the only mistake Levi needed. He grabbed Fen from behind and swung his blade at his throat. “For our father—” I jumped up, moving faster than I ever had, and blocked Levi’s blade with my own.

“Leave him be!” I screamed. Levi turned his ire against me, and we exchanged blows, our swords ringing in the stone halls. Baron growled and tried to leap to my side, but Dean and Niam kept him restrained, looking none too pleased at having to keep an angry wolf stilled against his will. I struck at Levi. He parried. He lunged. And a third blade entered the fray, knocking both of us back. “Stop!” Dean yelled, standing between us. He was the last person I expected to intervene. Perhaps the others felt the same, because the hall fell silent, all eyes turned to the Prince of Lust.

“I love fighting and killing as much as the next demon, but this is not our way. Not against our own. We are more civilized than this. Fenris deserves a trial.” Levi scowled. “You heard him. He admitted his crimes.” Dean shook his head. “Be that as it may, we do not know the whole of it yet. A trial is the way.

Our father’s way. Our way.” The other brothers nodded in agreement. The anger was leaving them. They didn’t want Fen dead. Not just yet. Not like this. “And what of the princess?” Zeb asked, his voice laced with some compassion. “She shall be tried as well,” Dean said, looking over to me with an unreadable expression in his eyes. Ace stayed quiet, his sword limp at his side, as if he didn’t know what he felt anymore.

Levi didn’t look happy, but everyone else agreed this was the way of it. Niam took my sword, while Dean and Zeb kept Fen under control. He struggled, but weakly, drained by the fighting. Together, we marched deeper into the castle. Levi fell to my side and squeezed my arm until it bruised, his face close to mine. “Enjoy your time in the dungeons, Princess. It’s the last view of this world you’ll get before you’re hanged.”

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