The lock clicked, released from its hold, and the sound reverberated off the stone walls deep underneath the house above. The heavily spelled door swung open, and my shoes clipped loudly on the stone floor as I stepped into the small room. Magic slammed into me, gripping my lungs. No matter how much I guarded this room with enchantments, they would never be fully contained.
The blood ignited in my veins as the power laced with my own, rushing up my spine like a geyser. My hands trembled.
One other knew of this room beside myself, but I trusted Goran with my life, a privilege only a handful of others had ever achieved in my entire existence. After I saved him from a life of being a slave for a sexually sadistic overlord, who beat and humiliated him until he was unconscious, he dedicated a life of faithfulness to me until his last breath.
A dominant force drew me to the first compartment on the wall, while the other two farther down the row were quiet. The fourth box sat empty, waiting to be filled.
Soon it will be. Soon the entire collection would be mine.
I was no fool; I understood the consequences of obtaining these objects and the power they held. However, my not having them would be an even bigger catastrophe.
The four Treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann were almost as ancient as fae themselves. The treasures were designed by Druids as gifts to honor the ancient fae kings and queens when Druids had yet to be taken into our gods’ and goddesses’ embrace, and still worked as teachers, seers, practitioners, and war consultants for the royal fae. Even then fae were aware of the Druids’ special abilities and their magic fae did not possess.
Like anything good, the offerings proved to be too tempting to the fae, who used them for their own gain. Only two of the treasures, the Sword of Nuada and the Spear of Lug, were neutral by nature, merely taking on the intent of the holder, be it good or bad.
The other two, the Stone of Fáil and the Cauldron of Dagda, developed their own desires. The stone grew gruesome with greed and power, wanting it all for itself, but the cauldron has enough power to counterbalance the stone.
Individually these treasures were more powerful than any fae. They were not meant to be together. The Druid who realized the ramifications of these objects’ power took them back and hid them from the world. They became legend, little more than folklore over the centuries, but they were no bedtime story. I had found all but one: the cauldron. And soon that would be remedied.
A tapping sound drummed against the metal of the cabinet. The stone wanted out. It longed for me to grasp it in my hand and let it free of its isolation.
My fingers slipped over the lid of the box, stroking it like a lover. My lids squeezed together, the call almost unbearable. Even alone, it was unpleasant to reveal the weakness I felt in its presence, to admit I might not be as strong as I believed. Demons craved power and control. I was no different, but my will was stronger than any others. My understanding of what these objects could really bring about kept me from indulging my desires.
One touch. The power I could give you. What we could do together. A voice entered my head, low and ancient. Do not fight me, like the human, for in the end it is pointless. You both will succumb.
“I will not. I am no ordinary fae you can manipulate,” I said back in my head. “I am your proprietor. You will do as I wish. As for the girl, she already defeated you. She was strong enough to fight you.”
She tricked me, the stone replied. But I left my mark…she will hear my call when the time comes. She will not be able to help herself. And neither will you.
A smile curled my mouth. “You greatly underestimate the girl. And me.”
I had met the human-turned-fae girl prior to the war, and she had significantly surprised me. Zoey Daniels was stronger than most fae I’d ever met. What I had learned about her life, what she had gone through, showed me she was remarkable. She grew up fast and tough in the foster care system, jumping from house to house. Abused by one of the men she lived with, she became a street fighter to never be the victim again. It also enabled her to get extra cash to help take care of a disabled foster sister, Lexie. Somehow Zoey still tried to finish school, and landed a job with the government to hunt fae, only to find out she was the government experiment. I respected her. Liked her. I could say that about few people in my lifetime, fae or human.
She had survived through a transfer of fae powers from a Wanderer. Where most humans would have died the instant the magic touched their soul, she took it in and flourished. Then she outwitted and withstood the power of the Stone of Fáil. High kings and queens had fallen to its power, yet she had not. I understood, similar to others before, how hard it was to fight the draw of the stone. It showed you everything you desired, promising you power and your deepest wishes to come to life.
Yet it was finicky in its attachment. It did not speak to everyone who touched it. The stone had fixated on the street fighter, perhaps even falling in love with her, if a stone could do such a thing. It wanted her, even more than it wanted me. The stone was not the only one who could feel desire in the air. I could sense its true longing for her. Whether for revenge or something else, it craved Ms. Daniels.
The world will be in chaos because of you. You will need me to fight it. Deep down you know it is the truth, the stone whispered, wrapping around my mind, squeezing out doubts.
My throat tightened, my teeth clenching. Every hair along my neck pricked with energy, my muscles contracting with deep-seated desire.
The stone was not wrong; I knew what was going to happen. My fate showed its hand in small but profound ways lately. It woke me up at night, and left me pacing around my desk in the day. A battle was coming, one I feared I couldn’t stop from happening unless I took preemptive steps to control it. This was why I had worked so hard to collect all the Treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann. What was heading our way would take more than what I had alone.
One touch, King. Your power will be impervious to any threat. Inside and out. You will rule without worry for the rest of time. I can give you this and more. The stone lured me closer to the box where it was contained. I also know your other desire…I can bring her back.
Images of a woman flickered through my head. Long red hair framed the most beautiful face I had ever known. Light violet eyes rimmed in a darker shade of indigo sparkled from under her dark lashes. She was tall, her toned legs peeking out from the slit in her dress, a smile, so blindingly beautiful, growing on her face.
Aisling. My heart called her name.
You three can be a family. You know she is yours. You can have it all.
Another girl joined Aisling in the vision. She was a mix of the woman I loved and myself. Or my twin brother, Devlin.
Ember’s face and mannerisms were so similar to her mother it sometimes wrenched my heart to look at her. She had one yellow-green eye from her demon ancestry, the other eye a violet match to her mother’s. Ember’s jet-black hair hung to her waist, the color the same as her father’s, with streaks of red through it, representing her mother. Daes—half fae, half demon—took after both their parents in appearance. It was easy to spot them with the different colored eyes and hair.
The secret of Ember’s parentage died with her mother’s murder. Aisling had told me Ember was Devlin’s, but that had been in a middle of a fight, when she had wanted to hurt me. Looking back, I could see why she had. Besides being so angry and hurt when I broke her heart, Devlin would have been a stable, loving father. A child to me then would have been an inconvenience. A hindrance to my goals. I had been foolish and stupid, picking power over her love.
Even when she left me for my brother, Aisling and I could not stay away from each other, our passion too strong to fight.
I had always sensed Ember was my child, but I had no way of proving it. Demon twins were identical down to the last DNA strand. Respecting Aisling’s choice of father, I told Ember I was her uncle. In truth, I hated it. Ember was mine. My daughter.
Don’t you want that? Your lover back in your arms and in your bed every night? You daughter undeniably yours? Everyone thinks you only crave power, but I know the truth. You want a family. Love.
My fingers rolled up into a fist. The stone pulled out my most secret desire, which sounded sad and weak. I was a king! I had all I could ever want, in my bed and out, but none of it filled the hole Aisling left when she died. Nothing filled the emptiness when I mistook a need for power over her love. If I had seen what was in front of me, she would be alive, and Ember would have grown up under this roof, instead of with her adoptive mother, Lily. She would have crawled around my office, learned to walk in the family room, trained in her powers early with Alki, and been spoiled silly by me. Actually, by this whole house. Marguerite would have doted on her and plumped her with food. The love of my life and my daughter would both have been happy and healthy in my arms.
One decision changed my life in so many ways. One I utterly regretted.
With a shaking hand, I reached for the box, hooking the lid of the container. The other strongboxes were pregnant with power but did not taunt me like the stone.
Yes, demon. Aisling could be yours again. Your heart aches for her. One touch and I can take all that pain and regret away.
The top of the container opened, causing my lungs to draw in large gulps of air. Stop. You are stronger than this. A voice in my brain berated me, but my hand continued to inch down.
Almost. Just a little bit more. The stone vibrated, shoving off waves of energy, pulling my hand down even closer to its surface. My body quaked with its power, cutting a craving so deep, I felt as though I was going through withdrawals. I need it. Just a little taste.
“Sir?” A voice behind jerked me around with a start. I wrenched my hand back from the case. Goran stood in the doorway, his eyes pinched at the corners. “Sir? What were you doing?”
“None of your business.” My neck stiffened, my chin rising. “What do you want?”
“The Queen is here to see you. Again.” Goran shifted on his feet, his attention flicking to my hands briefly. I slipped my hands in my trouser pockets. “She demands to see her sister.”
I tried to fight back the groan on my tongue. Kennedy Johnson had been here twice already this week. I wasn’t the one keeping her from her newfound sibling. It was the extremely powerful, pain-in-the-ass Druid I had locked up in my cell. Fionna, the eldest daughter of Keela and Raghnall and descendant of the great Cathbad, one of the most formidable Druids to ever live, refused to see her sister.
I hated to admit Fionna was wise. I had forced Ms. Johnson to promise to find the cauldron, the one Fionna knew the whereabouts of. She understood, though, if she and her sister were in the same room, there was a chance Kennedy would get the location from her.
Fionna would do everything in her power not to let me acquire the cauldron. She had almost kept me from getting the spear. She would not let this slip through her fingers so easily. She was strong and probably one of the toughest people, or fae for that matter, for me to break, but I would find her weakness.
“Sir?” Goran hauled me away from my thoughts.
“Yes, I will be right up.” I nodded to him.
His stern face pinched again, his large muscled body slightly turning away, as though he struggled with leaving me here by myself.
“Go, Goran. Let her know I will be there shortly.”
He nodded, knowing he could not refuse my order. He gave me one last look before ascending the stone steps.
Air released in a heave from my lungs, and my gaze drifted down. Even tucked in my pockets, I could feel the tremors rattling my fingers. I drew them out, bringing them up. My gut tightened as they shook violently. The magic of the treasures was so thick, it wasn’t wise to stay more than a few minutes. But I was the High Demon Unseelie King. I could handle more than most, and I refused to be intimidated by this level of magic.
I shoved away the unease, straightened my back, walked confidently to the door, then shut and locked it. I greatly respected Kennedy, but if she went against her promise, I would do anything to keep my reign secure and my people safe.