There were a million snowflakes floating through the air in Southern Blackwood. The tiny, glittering crystals drifted to the ground like miniature smiling ghosts.
All was peaceful as the snow fell and the sun rose, casting a silvery-gold radiance across the kingdom of the dead. The gentle heat of the early morning rays warmed my cheeks, filling me with a glimmer of hope as I gazed at the beautiful sight before me.
It was hard to imagine that it could all be destroyed soon.
The second Sohsol Apocalypse was already on its way.
I stared at the jagged mountains in the distance, so covered in ice that they almost disappeared into the skyline. Then my gaze focused closer, onto the snow-laden branches of barren trees and the needled shoots of evergreens. Maybe we would have the advantage if our enemies attacked us here? After all, they were used to islands, beaches, deserts, and magical forests—they weren't used to the freezing cold of an icy tundra.
Rob strode out onto the balcony beside me, holding a steaming mug in each hand. He still looked tired, with narrowed eyes and messed-up dark hair.
Maybe he was exhausted from the events of the day before? It hadn’t been the perfect holiday we’d all imagined—in fact, it'd been mostly a disaster thanks to those mischievous, bastard-ass demons. The people of Blackdell seemed to truly enjoy themselves, forgetting the terrible reality we existed in for a single night of bliss and cheer.
But the night was over. It was morning now. It was time to face reality head-on.
He passed one of the mugs to me and took a sip of his own as he gazed out across the same mountains I stared at. The silence was odd, heavy yet comfortable. Neither of us spoke for a few long minutes. We simply stood there, quietly soaking in each other’s company.
Eventually Rob sighed. "Taron and Tamara will be here any moment now."
I nodded my understanding as my stomach twisted into knots. Whatever news they’d come bearing on behalf of the Storm King couldn’t be anything good.
"Are the others up?" I asked, sipping at my hot tea. He’d added cream and sweetener, just how I liked it. It made me smile.
He nodded, turning to me instead of the mountains. "No matter what happens, Jewels, just remember: no one is to blame but Zacharias motherfucking Storm."
My heart rate picked up, pumping nausea through my veins. "What do you know that you’re not telling me?"
His gray eyes fell shut, and he shook his head.
Dan cleared his throat from the doorway where the balcony met the inn we were staying at. "They’re here."
Rob fought hard to shoot me a smile, but it was incredibly flat. "Let’s get this over with then."
"Wait," I said, grabbing Rob's arm. "I meant to ask you the other day… how are vampires able to travel during the day down here? Back home, they'd burn into ashes."
He smiled softly and simply pointed upward. "It's almost always overcast and cloudy. As long as the sun's rays are blocked, they're safe."
Ah. I supposed that made sense.
Inside, we met up with Cal, Ben, Ash, and Criss. Tension coursed through their rigid muscles as they stood around waiting on us. I could tell we were all a nervous wreck. Well, except for Rob. He was eerily calm. It made me even more nervous.
The vampire twins stood just outside our room door, waiting in the hallway until we officially invited them in. I didn’t think it was an actual vampire restriction, more like a common courtesy that vampires followed more strictly than most.
"Come on in, guys," Rob said as he sat down in one of the two clawfoot chairs.
Taron nodded and strode over to sit in the other chair, while Tamara stood at his right-hand side, arms crossed at her chest. The rest of us perched precariously on the edge of three double beds we’d pushed together in order to make room for us all to sleep the night before.
I was never a nail-biter, but I was seriously considering becoming one right then.
Taron bounced his fingertips together a few times before finally lacing them tightly. "There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m going to just spit it out. Please forgive my insensitivity."
Rob nodded, and Taron took a deep breath.
"Three of your mothers are dead."
I swallowed hard, desperately trying to shove down the urge to puke.
The rest of the guys acted at once. Dan cursed, Ben spouted off a bunch of questions, while Ash and Criss looked stunned out of their minds, with wide eyes and gaping mouths. But not Rob. He simply removed a flask from his inside pocket and took a long swig. It’d been so long since I’d seen him turn to alcohol for support, I’d almost forgotten how much he used to lean on it.
"Which three?" Cal asked. He was trying to be stoic, but I heard his gentle sadness underneath it anyway.
Taron paused and sighed once more as his gaze fell on Ben. "Bianca." He glanced at Dan. "And Delilah." Finally, he turned to Rob. "And Rosemary."
A burning hot tear slipped down my cheek, scalding my skin. I couldn’t speak. I could barely swallow or breathe.
The Storm King’s note flashed through my mind, the memory fading and wavering around the edges. You’ll pay for that, he’d said of our triple marriage. I should have known it would have been a price too high to repay.
He… he killed their mothers because they loved me enough to marry me. Because they defied him. It was all because of me…
Emptiness took up residence in my shell of a body. I was so numb it hurt. I couldn’t imagine how pained my princes were. They probably wouldn’t even want to look at me; I knew I wouldn’t.
I stood to leave, but Rob stopped me with his gentle words. "I already told you it’s not your fault, Jewels. It’s his. He did this, not you."
But still, I couldn’t speak. It was like my vocal cords had tied themselves shut and burned off any excess.
Rob sighed and scrubbed a hand down his face. A layer of dark stubble had grown along his jawline during our journey. As attractive as it was, I couldn’t bring myself to look at him for long. It pained me too much. No matter what he’d said, I felt guilty as fuck.
"Are their bodies on the cart?" Rob asked the vampires.
Taron shook his head. "Just their heads. In a chest. The other queens wanted to bury the bodies and send them to the Underworld in peace."
More tears stung down my