When the time finally came and we were led into the dining hall, I was actually nervous. I hadn’t been nervous about singing in decades. But the whole atmosphere of the place seemed to be geared toward intimidation. It was an entirely different feeling from that in the Sapphire Court, and I wasn’t at all surprised to find that no one, and I mean no one, was making out in the dining hall, despite it being mid-meal when we walked in.
There weren’t random tables or weird decorations either. This was a clean, well-organized room, with tables placed in neat rows down each side, and a high table set horizontally at the end. No elevation required; it was obvious who was in charge there. The Onyx King didn’t need height or glitz to proclaim his power. His throne was elegant and understated, carved from ebony and stained even darker. His clothing was dignified, unadorned by jewels or frills, and predominantly black. He sat behind a sleek, ebony table, and wore a thick band of onyx, with a low point in the center, for his crown. The man had a thing for black.
And damn if he didn’t look good in it.
I felt my jaw unhinge as I laid my eyes on the Onyx King for the first time. The musicians were busy around me, setting up their instruments in the space before the high table. It wasn’t a long process, but it seemed to take forever as I stared at King Torin. And he stared back.
Blue eyes. That sounds so plain. So common. But these eyes were the shade of the deepest, clearest, glacier-fed lake. They seemed to shine from within, as if his magic could barely contain itself and needed a way out. Those eyes matched the gleaming highlights in King Torin’s blue-black hair, which fell haphazardly around his face and over his shoulders in silken disarray. Wide and muscular shoulders that belonged on a linebacker or a lumberjack, not a fairy king.
In fact, Torin’s entire body was impressive, built bigger than any fairy physique I’d ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some human blood in his ancestry. Or maybe some loup. Werewolf genes would explain the swarthy tint to his fair skin, but his features were too striking for wolfkin. A slender nose was bracketed by high cheekbones, and he had a sensual mouth that slowly smiled at me.
Oh fuck, he was a fairy sex god.
I nearly forgot to sing as the music rose around me. But then it called to me. The low thuds, like a heartbeat. The scraping squeal of guitars. The unformed magic undulating up inside my chest. Waiting for me to transform it into something powerful with my voice. Music was my life, as important as the blood in my veins, and I knew that if there ever came a day when I could no longer sing, I would be as good as dead. That was the weakness I had to accept. The flaw that kept me cautious, if not humble. Kill my voice, and you kill me.
I started to sing, my hips rolling to the erotic grind and whine. The sensual words suddenly seemed appropriate. Achingly appropriate. I didn’t want to kill this man. I know, it was really unprofessional of me to let a handsome face sway me, but damn, what a waste. I wanted to do all the naughty things I was promising him. Images of bare skin and blue eyes formed in my mind, and went to war with my prepared intent. I pushed them away. I’d already accepted payment, and the magic was filling me. The entire room would sense the spell in seconds. Either I killed the Onyx King, or he would surely kill me.
Yet I found myself confessing to King Torin with the help of the lurid lyrics, explaining that I had to do this, I was sent there to destroy him. I wanted him, but I must murder him. I had no choice.
I wove the words around him, setting my trap, holding him hostage. I couldn’t risk King Torin calling on onyx. Then the song started to delve into darker regions. Darker and dirtier. A drowning serenade of seduction and hostility. I found myself connecting with the music in a carnal way, nearly purring to the Onyx King about the wicked things I wanted to do to him. It was so wrong, feeling aroused during a kill, but I realized it was the only way I’d get through it. I had to trick myself into believing this was about sex, not death, or I’d never be able to deliver the fatal blow.
By this point, he should have been paralyzed. But instead of his being frozen in fear, King Torin’s eyes were filling with lust. His chest was starting to rise sharply with his rapid breaths. His hands clenched on the arms of his throne. He was listening to my song, but wasn’t falling under my control. The Onyx King was enjoying my performance. I tried to push away the unease and regret I felt, and sang out the line that was meant to kill a fairy king.
My voice echoed around me, vibrating through the air like a swung sword. There it was, the moment he should have been torn apart from the inside out. Killed in an instant. A merciful death, if a bit messy. But King Torin was unharmed. Alive and . . . smiling. Oh gods, he was smiling.
Then I felt it–the pull, the drain. Something was absorbing my magic. As soon as it left my mouth, the spell was grounded. Nullified. Just another pretty melody without any physical power to it. I faltered, stumbling over the words, and the Onyx King stood. He made a swift gesture, his eyes never leaving mine. Knights rushed out of the crowd and seized the musicians. The music died a squeaking death, and my spell died with it. I gasped as my hands were grabbed and roughly yanked behind me. Then I was gagged for the second time that week. I screamed futilely against the leather, fought against my restraints, and got nowhere but more firmly bound.
Torin, the Onyx King, strode over to me, and I finally saw how huge he really was. Way over six feet tall, but that wasn’t uncommon for Shining Ones. It was the breadth of him that was so surprising. Muscles for days. All over. Amid the sleek Shining Ones, he seemed massive. A monster of a man. Damn. This guy had killed Galen’s sister? It must have been a quick death. As I hoped mine would be.
“What an erotic song you chose for me.” King Torin looked me over slowly. “And you were going to kill me with it? That seems more like something a succubus would do than a spellsinger. But not nearly as much fun. As enticing as your words were, I think I’d rather have the succubus. At least she would have made good on her promises.”
The Shining Ones around me laughed, and I blanched. Oh fuck, I’d been set up. But why? How? Was it Galen? Why would the Sapphire King hand me over to the Onyx King? Why go through all this subterfuge? If King Galen had wanted me dead, he could have killed me himself. He was definitely strong enough.
“I don’t believe you truly desired to kill me, did you, Spellsinger?” Torin gently brushed a lock of my hair back from my face.
My blood chilled, my body shivered, and my throat constricted. He wasn’t going to make it fast. My death would be slow and very painful.
“No, you didn’t. I saw that in your eyes. Regret. And you didn’t know what you were getting into either. Poor little bird. Let’s put it behind us, shall we? Welcome to my court, Elaria Tanager. Welcome to your new home.” King Torin turned to his knights. “Take Ms. Tanager to her chambers”–he barely spared a glance for the musicians–“and kill them.”
The musicians started to scream, begging for their lives.
“Fine.” Torin held up a hand and they quieted. “Kill all but that one.” He pointed to Rupert. “You will return to the Sapphire King and tell him to stop fucking with me. I ceased being amused by his incompetence after his fifth assassin. Tell Galen that I have her, the Spellsinger, and that he just let the most precious woman in all the worlds slip through his fingers. To waste her on an assassination attempt was foolish. Tell the Sapphire King that if he would stop sucking on his wife’s tit for more than five minutes, he might have figured out how important Elaria Tanager was. But now it’s too late; he’s delivered her right into my hands, and I will use her to destroy him.”
Torin’s gaze went back to me as the musicians were dragged from the hall, most in one direction, Rupert in another. The Onyx King looked me over with supreme satisfaction. He nodded to the men holding me, and I was dragged away too. Precious indeed. The only reason this guy thought I was precious was because he believed he could make me into a supernatural assault rifle.
I was so fucked, but at least I wasn’t dead.