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“The work begins.” Delantis smiles and starts climbing the stairs back the way we came.

“Yes.” Chatara points to the closest Vundi. “Get all the things she says.” Turning back to me, she asks, “What are we going to do?”

“The waterfall.”

“The waterfall?”

“When I came in, I saw that beautiful waterfall, but what I also saw was the mineral nahcolite. The white crystals along the stone beneath the falls—that’s likely a mix of limestone and nahcolite. I’d need a closer look to be certain, but I’m pretty sure it has what you need.”


“It’s the rock form of sodium bicarbonate.” I smile. “Baking soda. It’s naturally anti-fungal. So is lime. You need to load up with it from the walls of the waterfall, bring it over here, smash it until it’s a fine powder, and then lace the dirt with it. It might even be better if you mix it with water and add it to your irrigation system. There will be an eventual calcium buildup doing it that way, but better to do a clean-out every so often than have a fungal issue. It’ll take time, and you’ll likely lose these plants, but when you re-seed, the problem should have abated.”

“How do you know this?” Chatara is a mix of dumbfounded and wary.

“Trust her, Chatara,” Delantis calls. “The Ancestors brought her here for a reason.”

Chatara straightens, her doe-eyes sobering. “We’ll get to work immediately.” She takes a few steps away, then turns. “Thank you. If this works, you will have saved countless Vundi.”

“Happy to help. I just know fungi and minerals. You’re the ones doing the saving. I’m not the savior, um, person. Anyway, gotta go. Yep.” I try to cover my awkward by following Delantis up the stairs and back into the hallway.

I offer Delantis my arm again. She takes it, but she seems energized, her steps lighter than before. Even her gryphon prances along behind us.

“Now that we did our dirt, back to the prophecy.” I’m not about to let her get away with not telling me anything.

She laughs. “Tenacious. A good trait for a queen.” She turns those silver eyes on me, but trouble haunts the creases beside them. “Perhaps the prophecy was wrong. It doesn’t fit. Not with you.”

“Tell me the prophecy. Please.” I need more to go on than a necklace I can’t remove and a dark, sparkly aura. I need to know what connection I have to this world.

She pauses. “Prophecies are strange things. They never mean what they say or say what they mean. Keep that in mind.”

“It’s in mind.” Can’t she tell I’m on pins and needles here? “Spill it.”

“It isn’t pretty, but I will tell you. We owe you. And I sense that the Vundi will be even further in your debt once the fields are replanted.” She sighs. “This prophecy—few know of it, and fewer still believe in it.”

I bounce on the balls of my feet. “I’m ready. Hit me.”

“It was foretold long ago by a seer who could sense the coming of the great war that decimated Arin. She saw another conflict, one just as great, that would be heralded by the arrival of a particular creature. ‘A child of many worlds, clothed in light, will come home.’”

I chew my bottom lip. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“I’m not finished.” She gives me a wry smile. “‘On wings of death, the child will glide to sit on her throne of bone.’”

I frown. “Okay, that’s a little darker than I thought it was going to go, but we’re getting somewhere, I guess. Please continue.”

“The realms will bend—”

“I’m afraid it’s time for you to surrender, changeling.” Vanara appears ahead of us, my obsidian blade in her grip and resolve in her eyes. “The king beyond the mountain will have his due.”

I shout Leander’s name in my mind and hope he can find me in this stone maze. If he can’t, things are about to go terribly wrong.

“You don’t want to do this, Vanara.” Delantis glows, the white light flowing from her in waves.

Her gryphon wraps its large talon around my waist and pulls me back before standing in front of me.

“Step aside, crone.” Vanara brandishes the obsidian blade and advances. “The changeling bitch belongs to me.”



“The council came around in the end, at least. I’ll have to talk to the harvest master in Cold Comfort and figure out logistics, but we should be able to get enough food over the border to sustain them until we can figure out the crop situation.” Gareth leads the way back to our rooms.

“We should send an envoy to the farmers in the west, see if they can assist with the underground fields. Maybe the Vundi will let them in.”

“I can arrange that, though we may run afoul of the queen.”

“Better to ask forgiveness than permission, right?” I turn the corner toward our rooms. “Besides, maybe Taylor has already figured out a solution. My mate is quite a clever alchemist.”

Beth stands at the door, her gaze on Gareth as she taps her foot impatiently. “About time. Where’s Taylor?”

“She should be—” The hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and the feral howls inside me. I take off running.

“What is it?” Gareth follows at my heels.

“She’s in danger.” I draw my sword as I navigate the dark passages, each second an agony as I try to find my way to her. Her fear coats me like the tang of blood, but there’s something else crackling down our bond. Something cold and dark.

A shriek echoes through the dark stone hallways, the sound covered in pain and impending death.

“What was that?” Gareth keeps to my heels.

“I must find her!” I roar as I race past some wide-eyed Vundi carrying shovels, bowling them over as I go. She’s closer, but I can’t get to her, and the darkness is growing.

“Leander!” Gareth shouts. “That way’s a dead end.” He points to the right.

I rush past him and catch her scent, which spurs my steps even faster.

When I turn the next corner, I see her. She sits cradling Delantis’s head in her lap as Vanara lies to the side, her body convulsing as black streaks trace across her skin. She shrieks, but the sounds quickly die on her tongue as she folds in on herself, the darkness covering her. The proud gryphon lies on its side, a cruel slash in its chest.

Taylor looks up at me, tears glittering in her eyes.

“Are you hurt?” I rush to her as Gareth stands next to Vanara, his blade at the ready.

“No. But Delantis—”

“Your aura.” Delantis reaches up and waves her fingers around Taylor’s shoulder. “It’s beautiful. Dark and starry. I can see it now.”

“I’m sorry.” Taylor strokes Delantis’s cheek. “I’m so sorry.”

A deep red stain mars the front of Delantis’s dress, spreading from her heart.

“It’s my time.” The old fae smiles but doesn’t move, her life draining away as she struggles to catch her breath. The gryphon lets out a mournful sound as it struggles to crawl closer to Delantis, its body fading as it drags along the cold stone floor.

“Can you save her?” Taylor’s lip quivers as she turns to me. “Heal her?”

The obsidian blade lies nearby, and I can smell Delantis’s blood on it. It can kill any creature. Even a fae as old and powerful as her. There is no saving her, but I will try anything to ease Taylor’s pain.

“Gareth?” I motion him over but keep Vanara in my peripheral vision. She’s not moving, her skin turning black and desiccated. What did Delantis do to her?

“I’ll do my best.” He holds his palm out, summoning a healing spell.

“You can’t.” Delantis closes her eyes. “The obsidian has a hold on me now. I can feel it pulling me away.”

Gareth tries anyway, pressing the green magic to her chest. The blood doesn’t stop, and Delantis sighs. The gryphon cries low and weak, then fades from view.

“Please don’t go.” Taylor’s tears fall on Delantis’s white hair.

All I can do is wrap my arm around her and hold her as she holds the dying fae. The workers we passed earlier have caught up, all of them dropping to one knee as Delantis’s light fades, her long life ending as my mate cradles her close.

“The stone will protect you, young one. Keep it for as long as you can.”

Taylor strokes Delantis’s cheek. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. I-I didn’t know what to do.”

“Shh now.” Delantis’s voice drops to a whisper, her breathing slow. “You did fine. I will be with you. The stone, the blade—each of them is yours, and each of them harbor a part of me.”

“No, no, no.” Taylor’s tears are coming faster now. “Please don’t go.”

Gareth toes Vanara, but her body turns to black soot, crumbling into nothing. He looks at me with stark eyes. “What magic did Delantis unleash?”

The injured fae coughs weakly. “He will send for you. Do not forget who you are. Do not reject the bond.” She opens her eyes one more time and pins Taylor with an intense stare. It’s an act of sheer will. She’s lost too much blood and is fading fast. “It will save you.”

“What?” Taylor sobs.

Delantis closes her eyes again and breathes her last breath, the light fading from her like the setting sun, and everything going cold.

“What happened?” I murmur into Taylor’s hair as I hold her close, carrying her back to our rooms as Gareth takes point, both of us attuned to any rising threats. We need to get out of here. The delicate trade deal we just struck will be blown apart by the deaths of Delantis and, to a lesser degree, Vanara.

She hitches in her breath. “Vanara came at us, and then Delantis used her magic, but Vanara had some sort of defense and slashed the gryphon.”