I have sung the Song of the Dead before. As Crown Princess it has been my duty to usher a handful of high ranking puremen with royal blood from this life to the next in formal ceremony. But never have I sung this song for one I loved.I was too young to sing it for my mother. My father sang her song, though how he managed it I will never know. He must have buried his grief deep to make it through that night. And now, I must sing Kai’s.
My heart is heavy as we board the private jet that will fly us from Vianney to London. Wytt and Scarlett are by my side, each quiet, lost in their own thoughts. My father is already on board. Uncle Ragathon has chosen not to come. He said he’s already said his goodbyes, but I know it’s because he can’t bear to return to his former home with so much bitterness between him and my father.
The last time he went to London was for my mother’s memorial. He loved her too much to stay away, and loves her too much still to ever return.
I grip the cold steel stair railing as I climb into the jet. Scarlett raises an eyebrow when we enter, and I know she’s surprised by the opulence. I forget sometimes that she grew up a plebeian, living a life of poverty and food rations, while I dined on pheasant and duck and rich cheeses and chocolates and lived like the Queen I will someday be.
She and I had such different lives, but here we are, in the same place. We would have been sisters someday, had Kai lived. Of that I am sure. He loved her that much. She loved him too. But now, we are more than sisters by marriage. We are bound by the blood of Nephilim. She chose my life over my brother’s.
I still don’t know how to live with that knowledge. That it was to be me or him, and she chose me. I know she’s right, that he would have hated her and himself had she chosen otherwise. And I know the choice must have killed her in some small way.
But she made me an enemy of my people, of my family.
It’s only been a fortnight since that moment forever drenched in blood.
I realize I’ve stopped walking, blocking Wytt and Scarlett from entering. I move forward and take a seat by the window.
The interior is a cream mini-palace with lush leather swivel chairs and a fully stocked bar. Wytt wastes no time in pouring the three of us drinks. My father has already escaped to his private office, leaving the main cabin to us.
Scarlett sinks into the chair across from me and Wytt sits next to her. I know my twin is confused by me these past several days. He chalks it up to grief, to missing Kai, to shock and recovery, but when it doesn’t go away, when the secrets and subterfuge remain, what will I tell him? How do I keep the fact that I’m now Nephilim from the person who knows me best in the world?
Scarlett looks at me like she knows what I’m thinking. Maybe she does. Her silver-blue eyes are kind, sympathetic, and always these days full of apology. I’ve forgiven her, because she is my best friend and I love her and I don’t blame her for making the choice she did. But it won’t stop hurting. For either of us.
Wytt smiles. It doesn’t reach his purple eyes, but he’s trying. “What shall we talk about for the next hour?”
Scarlett’s eyes widen as she stares out the window. “It’s impressive how fast this flies.”
I try not to snort. She stole a military grade fighter jet and uses it as her alter ego, Nightfall. She also has her own set of wings and could fly to London faster than this. But she’s always been a pilot at heart, and this jet must seem like a dream to her.
Wytt nods his head regally. “Nothing but the best for a lady as fair as thee.”
His flirtations fall flat, and I wonder how long it will take us to get back to normal. Is there such thing anymore? Can we find a new kind of normal after all this pain?
We drink in silence, and I am surprised when my father steps out of his office and calls my name.
“Corinne, I need to speak with you.”
Scarlett and Wytt look up at me as I stand. Wytt raises an eyebrow. “Any idea what this is about?”
I shrug. “Not a one.”
My father is sitting behind a mahogany desk when I come in. I sink into the chair facing it.
He looks tired, older than his years. He’s a vibrant man, tall, muscular, fit, with long brown hair pulled back in a tie and dark purple eyes that see everything and everyone. He’s always assessing, always planning and plotting. But now the skin around his eyes is puffy, and dark bruises shadow them. His face looks drawn, as if he hasn’t slept in far too long.
He and Kai never got on well, but I know he loved my brother as much as any of us, no matter what Kai thought. I can’t imagine losing a child and still having to run a country.
“Corinne, I wanted to speak with you privately before we land in London.”
“Alright,” I say cautiously. I get the sense I am not going to like what he is about to tell me.
“You’re aware of the terrorist calling himself Nico Rex?”
“Yes, of course.” His Latin name roughly translates to Killer of Kings, though so far he has killed no royalty. Still, he’s been a problem ever since he destroyed an A-Tech factory in Sapientia.
“Good,” says Varian. “Then we shall speak briefly.” He clicks on his eGlass and the eScreen on the wall changes from a waterfall to a newscast.
A pert redhead stands in front of the burning remains of a building. “I’m on the scene at the A-Tech factory outside London, where famed terrorist Nico Rex has struck again, this time destroying the second largest A-Tech lab in the kingdom. At this time seven causalities have been reported by the Hospitallers, with many more injured and seeking medical treatment. Jace Whitman, new CEO of A-Tech since the death of his grandfather, was not present at the time of the bombing, and has not made a statement to press. We understand that King Varian will be returning to his kingdom shortly. Stay tuned for a debate on what this loss means for the King. With A-Tech currently bringing in the bulk of wealth for the kingdom, the destruction of this world-renowned company could spell the end of the Ravens’ reign.”
I watch in dismay as bodies are pulled from the wreckage on gurneys. “News of this will have already reached our enemies at Court,” I say.
He clenches his jaw at the mention of our rivals. “Yes. The Yorks and Skys make dealings behind my back. We’ll have an uprising soon. One of the lesser houses will try to overthrow us.”
I sit up straighter, the regal Princess ready perform her duty. “What would you have me do?”
He drinks deeply from his goblet before answering. “Marry. Marry the Prince of Crows and gain their allegiance.”
My chest tightens, feeling the control of loss over my own body. The choice of whom I wed was likely never going to be mine. I knew this, but still, I am not prepared.
I stare into my father’s eyes, seeing the ghost of past deeds buried there. “You really ask me of this?”
He sighs. “I know the timing is poor, but it must be done. I agreed to the marriage proposal a few minutes ago.”
“Yes, of course,” I say, clenching my sweaty hands. “Who will it be? Arion, or Norin?”
“Norin.” Not the Crown Prince, then. The one who pulled on my hair when we were little and together at Court.
“And when is this supposed marriage to take place?” I ask through gritted teeth.
My father at least has the decency to look moderately ashamed when he answers me. “Two days after Kai’s memorial.”
“What?” I stand now, anger fueling my need for movement. I fight the instinct to unleash my wings. “That’s less than a fortnight.”
“It was the only way they’d agree.”
“They would be getting a Queen out of the bargain. Can’t they wait until I’m at least out of mourning?”
“I’m sorry, Corinne. I wish there was another way.”
I walk to the door leading out of his office, then turn, my hand on the polished knob. There is another way, and I will find it.