Home > Blackbird Crowned (The Witch King's Crown #3)

Blackbird Crowned (The Witch King's Crown #3)
Author: Keri Arthur

Chapter One

 

 

A soft but insistent beeping dragged me from the depths of sleep. I rolled onto my side and hugged my pillow over my ears, doing my best to ignore the noise.

It took several minutes and half a dozen more beeps for the realization to hit: it was my phone.

I swore and groped for it on the bedside table, then cracked an eye open. Multiple messages, sender unknown. I turned down the sound and then shoved the thing under the pillow. It was three in the goddamn morning and it had been a very long day. The last thing I needed was random texts at this hour.

The phone started vibrating instead.

I swore again, grabbed it, and hit the messages button. Twenty of them had come in the last five minutes, and all had the exact same wording—you need to get out of the apartment. Now.

My pulse skipped several beats and then galloped on. While it was possible these texts were misdirected, I wasn’t about to ignore them. Not after all the shit that had gone down lately.

I pushed into a sitting position, then sent back, who is this?

There was no immediate response, and the stirring unease grew stronger. My gaze rose from the brightness of the screen to the deep shadows crowding the room. Nothing stirred, and the two knives that lay unsheathed on the spare pillow were inert. Those knives—which had been handed down to the firstborn female in the De Montfort line of witches from time immemorial—were a gift from the goddess Vivienne and born of magic as much as steel. While traditionally they held the power of life and death, they were now reacting to the presence of demons and dark elves, whether they were full or half blood.

That the knives currently weren’t glowing didn’t ease the tension slithering through me.

I scanned the darkness again. I was sleeping in my brother’s room because mine still had a great gaping hole in the roof thanks to the demon-spawned witchling who’d tried to bring the entire building down on top of me. Max wouldn’t object, as he was never likely to come back here.

My brother—my twin—was a traitor.

He was working with Darkside—the dark reflection of Earth that existed on a different plane, a place where demons, dark elves, and multiple other nasties lived—to bring down the current royal family in order to claim the throne and reinstall witch rule.

Just how far he’d go—and whether he was truly willing to sacrifice me in order to achieve his dream—was a question that had yet to be answered. I might be his blood price—a payment extracted by dark elves for services rendered—but, as yet, that payment had not been called in.

I wanted to believe that it wouldn’t be. That Max would, in the end, value me more than his dreams of domination.

The saner part of my soul—the part that ran on practicality rather than emotion—said it was a vague hope, at best.

Tears stung my eyes. I scraped a hand across them, then glanced at the screen as it beeped again.

Who the hell do you think?

A smile tugged at my lips. I could almost hear the annoyance running through Max’s reply. Then why are you texting from an unknown number?

So I can’t be traced. By you or by others.

Meaning he suspected we were aware of his duplicity. But did he know about Winter? I had a sudden suspicion no one had as yet told him about his lover’s death—or that I was the one responsible for it. I had no doubt his responses would be a whole lot more emotional if he was aware.

Others being Darkside?

Again, there were several beats before his reply came in. Yes.

Why would you be worried about them tracing you when you’re working with them, brother?

Mo—our grandmother, though in truth she was centuries older than that—might have wanted to string him along on the chance we could grab him and then force information out of him, but the fact he was texting from an unknown number suggested that was an unlikely hope.

Not now that he’d claimed the sword in the stone, at any rate. That sword had for centuries chosen countless witch kings before the last of them had handed human royalty both the crown and the means of stifling any magical assault. Max might not be aware the sword he held wasn’t the true king’s sword, but it was nevertheless a powerful symbol to all those who believed witch rule needed to be restored, no matter what the price or the cost. There was certainly a scarily high number of them out there—and they were in all levels of the government, given just how many of our attempts to track down and question those involved in this mad plot had gone sideways.

Of course, I wasn’t about to directly confront him about the sword, but I had no intention of letting him entirely off the hook, either.

Because Darkside is not a united place, and there are a number of factions at work here. Some are friendlier than others when it comes to agreements made.

At least he was no longer affronting my intelligence by denying he was working with them.

Well color me surprised, I sent back and added a couple of shocked emojis. It’s fucking Darkside. They’ll eat you up and spit you out when they’re finished with you, brother.

Gwen, you don’t understand what I’m trying to achieve.

Oh, I believe I do.

Look, I haven’t the time to explain right now, but there are reasons. Good reasons. But for now, you need to get out.

Why?

They’re coming for you. You have five minutes, if that.

My gaze darted to the knives. Nex and Vita remained inert, but that didn’t mean trouble wasn’t about to hit. It just meant this time it wasn’t demons.

But even as that thought crossed my mind, a faint flicker of lightning ran down Nex’s blade.

I swore and quickly typed, then call them off!

Not my faction. Move. Leave.

Max!

No response.

I tossed the blankets off and scrambled out of bed. A storm raged outside, and the night was chilly. I shivered my way into jeans and a sweater before shoving on socks and boots.

The flickers down Nex’s side grew brighter.

I raced over to the window and slid it open. The wind whipped in, full of ice. The shivers got stronger, but I leaned out. No one moved in the small courtyard below; no shadows lurked near the metal bin or moved down the lane beyond the fence line.

I had no idea what was coming at us, but it wasn’t doing so from this direction. Which was good, as it at least gave us a safe escape route.

I moved back to the bed and shoved my hand under the pillow to retrieve the simple leather pouch I’d hidden there earlier. Though its weight told me its contents were safe, I nevertheless wasted several valuable seconds undoing the drawstrings then upending the pouch. The ring that tumbled into my hand was dominated by a huge red ruby onto which a cross and a rose had been carved. This was no ordinary ring, but rather, the Witch King’s coronation ring. If Vivienne were to be believed—and, in all honesty, who in their right mind would ignore the words of a very old goddess? —it was the only way to find Elysian, the Witch King’s real sword.

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