The Queen of All That Lives (The Fallen World Book 3)(8)

By: Laura Thalassa

I fear for the world I have woken to.

Beyond the cars, scraggly rolling hills stretch out as far as the eye can see. I can feel the solitude of this place. The whistle of the wind seems to exacerbate it.

I haven’t dropped my gun, but the soldiers don’t seem to mind. As soon as they rise, I catch sight of their expressions.

I’m a ghost. A myth. That’s the only explanation for the spooked ardor in their eyes.

All the while, rivulets of blood snake down my calves. They’re right to be spooked of me.

I scour their ranks, looking for Montes. My eyes pass over dozens of men and a few women. I look them over once, twice. I didn’t realize I held onto some sick hope until I feel it vanish.

The king isn’t among these soldiers.

Even in the middle of my bloodlust, my heart aches. Last time I was captured, he was there to retrieve me.

A hundred years to change into whatever he wanted to become. A hundred years to fall out of love. A hundred years to forget about the broken, deadly girl he forced into marriage.

The king that rules these people isn’t the same king I knew. All my anger and pain are wasted on a man who, in all probability, no longer cares for me. The world’s still at war, after all. If I can really end it, the king should have taken me out of the Sleeper long ago.

Reflexively, my hand tightens on my gun.

Behind me is open road, in front of me is vengeance. My twisted heart is breaking, but I’m tempted to leave my heartbreak and revenge to the past and walk away from it all.

I take a step back. The soldiers tense.

“Your Majesty,” one of them says, “we’re the king’s royal guard. You can trust us.”

Normally, when people tell you that you can trust them, it means exactly the opposite.

I look around; the soldiers encircle me completely. If I ran, how far would I get before they caught me? How many more men would I have to kill? I don’t want to spill more blood. And even if I did, I couldn’t possibly take them all out before the king’s guard immobilized me. I’d lose whatever precious power I had to wield.

I’m still not free.

“I need your word,” I say to the man who spoke.

He pauses. “Anything, Your Majesty.”

“Don’t let the king put me back in the Sleeper.” My voice breaks as I speak. “Kill me first.”

“I’ll vow to you anything but that.”

“Then I can’t go with you,” I say.

“Your Majesty,” he says, all but pleading with me, “what you’re asking of me is treason. The king would—”

I press the barrel of the gun to my temple. The soldiers tense once more.

“I need your word,” I say. “I need everyone’s word, or I will pull the trigger,” I say.

I hear murmuring from all around me. It takes a minute to make out what they’re saying, but eventually I do.

“Freedom or death.”

Even out here in the midday heat, my skin prickles.

What have you made of me, Montes?

As my gaze sweeps over all of them, I begin to see them nod. Then, one by one, they take a knee and put their fists over their hearts.

“You have my word,” the first soldier says.

“And mine,” someone says from behind me.

“And mine.”

“And mine.”

This lonely space fills with the sound of dozens of oaths.

Slowly, I lower my gun. They don’t know me, but now they show me allegiance.

I slip my weapon into the bodice of my dress and approach the king’s guards, leaving bloody footprints in my wake.

Time to meet the man of my nightmares.

The future is no place for civilization.

I stare out the window of the chopper that circled high above me only hours ago. Even this far away from the surface of the earth I can see the destruction.

What does a century and a half of war look like? It looks like ghost towns, like rust and wreckage.

Here and there I see evidence of small towns where people must live. Nothing about these settlements follow any sort of city planning. There are no straight lines, and they have none of the symmetry I recall from the time before the war.

The king appears to have left more than just me to rot.

Over the course of the flight, I notice the settlements change. They get bigger, nicer, and they seem to have some of the symmetry that the other ones lacked. Perhaps not everyone is suffering in this new world.

Once we begin to descend, I have an idea of where we’re headed. A swath of deep blue ocean stretches below me, broken up by islands every so often.

The king rebuilt his Mediterranean palace.

An unnatural dread settles into my bones. It’s going to feel like nothing’s changed. I just know it.

As soon as we land, I stand, and the king’s guards step into formation.

Dried blood flakes off me. I suppress a grimace. I’m a mess.

The back of the chopper opens, and I follow the soldiers out, the metal floor cool against my bare feet. My hair kicks up around me as I exit the aircraft.

No cameramen wait for me, nor any eager civilians. Instead, an armored car idles off to the side of the runway, and other than the few soldiers that stand in front of it, we are alone.

Still no king.

And now my mind skips back to the first time the king retrieved me, back when I thought he ordered my father to be killed. Even knowing that he was last person I wanted to see, he’d come for me.