Home > The Rogue Queen (The Hundredth Queen #3)(11)

The Rogue Queen (The Hundredth Queen #3)(11)
Author: Emily R. King

“I’ll send him a carrier dove right away.” Ashwin selects a plain piece of parchment to jot his letter upon. “We’ll agree to meet at the Samiya temple, far away from the sea raiders and the imperial army.”

“You’ll also be far away from help when Hastin stabs you in the back,” Deven clips out.

“We have another reason to meet in Samiya.” Ashwin picks up an open book. “I spent the night researching demons in hope of discovering the Voider’s identity. Many demons serve Kur, but I narrowed them down per their abilities and found one that possesses the icy breath of cold-fire.” He shows us the page with a sketch of a demon exhaling a plume of blue flames.

Deven and I shuffle closer to read the caption beneath the drawing, and our sides bump. He steps away and tells Ashwin to summarize.

“The demon’s name is Udug, Kur’s top commander. Udug has three siblings, who are also eternal soldiers of Kur’s: Edimmu, Asag, and Lilu. All four of them possess a version of bhutas’ land, fire, sky, and water abilities.”

Deven’s brows shoot up. “Udug and his siblings have bhuta abilities?”

“A perverted form of them, though their powers are rarely seen in our realm. It’s a long-held belief that demons are more powerful in the dark.”

The Voider—Udug—serves the demon Kur, who holds a grudge that goes back millennia, to the war between the sky-god Anu and his primeval parents. Kur means to avenge the deaths of the primeval gods by wiping out mankind’s strongest connection to Anu—bhutas. The First Bhutas vanquished Udug long ago, and their method was recorded in a sacred book. A book Udug destroyed.

I point at the picture of the Voider. “What does any of this have to do with Samiya?”

“The gods’ temple was built at the top of the Alpana Mountains,” Ashwin answers. Every member of the Parijana faith believes in Ekur, the gods’ mountain house, though no mortal has seen it. “This book says the only way to vanquish a demon is to banish it, just like the First Bhutas did. We have to find the gate to the Void and return Udug through it. The gate is rumored to be hidden near Samiya.”

The sisters spoke often of Ekur, but they neglected to mention that an entry to the Void was close to our temple sanctuary. That is, assuming they are aware it is there.

Deven blusters out a breath. “Kali, he’s only trying to convince you to go with him. The rebels don’t want to make peace with us. Hastin will never side with him.” He motions at Ashwin. “He represents everything the warlord despises.”

Ashwin rubs the back of his neck tiredly. “Your concerns are noted, Deven.”

But his concerns are no excuse for his lack of compassion. Ashwin has scars running down his back from a lashing Tarek gave him. He suffered his father’s wrath as much as anyone. “Ashwin is not his father. You need to stop punishing him for Tarek’s actions.”

“I’m not punishing him. I’m reminding you who he is and how much Hastin hates him.” Deven puts his hands together as if in prayer, begging me to listen. “This will end badly. Please. Go with the navy or stay here. I’ll rejoin you after I find Brac.”

“Come to Samiya with me.” My selfish request is small of me. But I do not care.

Deven stares back, incredulous. The events of last night are too fresh in his mind. The back of my throat aches for his forgiveness. “Kali, I have to find Brac.”

“You said yourself he’ll be fine. He’s too clever to be captured. Come with us.”

“You know I cannot.”

I know Deven will risk his life to save his brother’s, and I cannot bear to lose him. I try one last entreaty. “I cannot imagine returning to Samiya without you.”

Deven’s eyes go wide, and understanding passes between us. Returning to the Alpanas together is our dream.

Ashwin drops the book on the table with a bang. “I’ll go to Samiya alone, then.”

“Wait.” I grasp at him, desperate for all of us to come to an accord. “Please, don’t go.”

“Yes, you stay,” Deven growls. “I was just leaving.”

I let go of Ashwin and reach for Deven. “I didn’t mean—” Deven prowls out and slams the door. I think to follow him, but the prince encloses my stiff frame in an embrace.

“Let him go. You won’t change his mind.”

I try not to melt under Ashwin’s touch, but his body heat soaks into me, and the sudden change is irresistible. “Maybe we should listen to him.”

“Kalinda, we’re acting in the empire’s best interest. Together with the rebels, we will stop Udug.”

For the first time, Ashwin sounds certain that we can succeed. I drive away my guilt at needing—and appreciating—his touch and remain near him.

We will go to Samiya without Deven, but his refusal to support us leaves a sourness in my mouth. He of all people should appreciate why we need the rebels’ help. With Udug closer to Vanhi than we believed, trusting the warlord is a risk we must take.

6

DEVEN

I lean against the wall outside the prince’s door, my fists quaking. Kali took Ashwin’s side. They should be rerouting the navy to Vanhi, yet all they can think about is the warlord.

Shortsighted fools. The demon rajah’s head start could mean the end of the war. I push away from the wall and march down the corridor.

Turn back and tell her you love her. Don’t part in anger.

I nearly bow to my apprehension but stay on course. Last night, I slept on a bench in the garden instead of returning to Kali’s chamber. I resolved to leave her be, and I will, because the only other option is to compel her to choose between the prince and me right now. And that would make me an even bigger fool than they are, for I am not merely competing against a prince. I am up against her throne. She is long past needing me as her guard. Whatever happens on that mountaintop, Kali can defend herself. I am more concerned about them wasting time.

But time is all I can give her. Time to consider her future. Time to remember she never asked to become a rani. Time to realize she can have a peaceful life with me.

Unless I am utterly mistaken, and Kali has chosen her path. She may, in fact, never relinquish her throne. She may be falling in love with Ashwin, and she is sparing me heartache by not saying so . . .

I increase my pace, no longer departing in anger but with another emotion that I do not allow myself to inspect too closely before I shove it down and lock it away.

Yatin and Natesa dine on breakfast in Kali’s chamber. Natesa leaps out of the way when I storm in, the swinging door knocking against her chair. Rohan nibbles on pieces of mango. He is just fourteen, two years younger than his sister Opal. Anu, let our siblings be safe.

Mother sits out on the balcony, smoking her handheld hookah pipe while she speaks with Ambassador Chitt. Smoke curls rise around them.

“Rohan told us Brac and Opal are missing,” Yatin says in his deep burr.

I pace alongside the breakfast table, half expecting Kali to realize her foolishness and join us. But Ashwin was right—this is Kali’s choice.

Natesa dishes rice into a bowl in front of Rohan. He ignores it. Yatin tips back in his chair, closer to me. I pause beside him.

“He asked where Brother Shaan was,” he whispers.

Grief over the death of my mentor rises anew. Brother Shaan took in Opal and Rohan after their widowed mother was executed and found them safe passage out of Vanhi. Rohan and I feel his loss the most.

I pace again, restless to act. I cannot wait for Kali forever. If she thinks Ashwin’s plan of allying with Hastin will save us, then let them have their idealistic idiocy. My brother needs me.

I stop tromping around. Rohan deserves more time to mourn, but I need his help. “Rohan, I need you to fly me to the location where you last saw Opal and Brac.”

The Galer unbends from his slouch, buoyed by my request. His eagerness quiets my concern about how he will fare on our mission.

“Deven, don’t be rash,” Yatin says, direct but always respectful. “Rohan said the army has catapults and more than enough soldiers to fire them. The troops will shoot you from the sky.”

“The army will have marched on by now. Brac and Opal could be waiting for us where they landed. I need a Galer to take me.”

“And me,” Natesa says.

Yatin and I stare at her in joint astonishment. She blushes, squirming under our silent enquiry. Why is she volunteering? Natesa takes care of herself. She has extended her self-preservation to include Yatin, and sometimes Kali, but no one else. Especially not Brac. The two of them have never gotten along. He parched her the first time they met, and she has never forgotten.

“We should stay,” Yatin counters. “The wing flyer will travel faster without us.”

He has a point, but I would appreciate two more people on the lookout for Opal and Brac. Even so, coming along is their decision. I have no illusions about how dangerous this will be.

“I want to go,” Natesa insists. “My older sister passed away last year. After our parents died, she was all the family I had left.” She speaks more quietly, to steady her voice. “I don’t want either of you to lose a sibling as well.”

Her concern extends to Rohan, as his circumstance closely mirrors her own. His sister is also the only family member he has left. I should have considered Natesa’s decision was personal, but she often acts impervious to heartache, others’ and her own. I am beginning to see she is not as immune to compassion as she would like us to believe.

Yatin links hands with her. “We’ll both go.”

“It’s settled then. Eat up, soldier.” I slap Rohan on the back. “We need your powers refreshed for our flight.”

Rohan perks up even more at “soldier” and shovels in mango as fast as he can chew.

“Should we tell Kalinda and Ashwin?” Natesa asks, eating the last of her breakfast.

“They already know.” Despite my effort to sound neutral, rancor burns my tone. Natesa pauses chewing, sensing I am omitting something. I set forth our plan before she can prod at me. “Rohan, can you be ready to depart in an hour?”

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