For this Week’s #SaturdayScenes, I’m reposting All eight scenes (the first three chapters) in one post. I won’t be posting any other scenes on my blog, but I am looking for reviewers. If you are enjoying what you’ve read and would like to join my review team, leave me a comment and I’ll send you an e-copy.

Chapter
One
Coal held the newly forged
sword at arm’s length. The sentient weapon vibrated in his grasp, urging him to
attack, but he tightened his sweaty hands around the leather hilt and ignored
the foreign impulses. He’d been forging swords and practicing with the
completed weapons long enough to know when to attack and when to bide his time
and let the fight come to him. 
Grigory, the master
swordsmith, advanced. Coal parried, stepping aside and swinging his sword with
all of the skill he’d gained from the two years of working the forge. Grigory
fell to the ground, effortlessly rolling beneath the sword, before bouncing
back to his feet.
“Is she overwhelming
you?” Grigory asked as they faced each other. They had been dueling for the
past hour. Sweat dripped from Coal’s forehead, back, and arms, but just like every
other time they’d dueled, the master swordsmith showed no sign of exertion.
“She’s restless.” Coal
wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. “But I’m in
contr—”
Grigory rushed forward
with an arcing swipe. Coal raised his sword to meet the strike. For a moment,
their strengths were equal. His sword vibrated with glee as Coal threatened to
overcome Grigory.
Forcing the sword’s
excitement to the back of his mind, Coal focused all of his strength into his
upper body and pushed outward.
Overwhelmed, Grigory
leaped back.
During the two years of
forging swords and sparring with the master swordsmith, Coal had never had the
strength or skill to complete such a move. For an instant, he let himself—and
the sword—enjoy their accomplishment.
He was so distracted by
his small victory that he almost didn’t notice when Grigory spun round, his
left leg heading towards Coal’s knees. Coal dove away, Grigory’s boots just
skimming his leg. He rolled over frantically, to find a sword pointed at his
neck.
Grigory lowered his
blade. “You were distracted.”
“I almost had you,”
Coal said with an intense rush of pride and confidence.
“You did not,” Grigory
said, scratching the eye patch over his left eye. “You’ve been slow and lazy
all morning.”
“But I finally
completed the block.”
“Not with any speed.
You’re gaining strength and height, but that’s nothing to be proud of. What is
the point of winning the bind if you are beheaded a moment?”
Coal let Grigory’s
words sink in while he caught his breath. “You’re right. I’ve been a little
distracted. I’m supposed to meet Princess Chalcedony soon.” He glanced at the
sun, trying to gauge the time. It hung low in the morning sky, but the
springtime rays were much stronger than they were when he’d arrived.
Time for him to go.
Grigory lifted the
eyebrow above his remaining eye. The other had been gouged out 200 years ago
when he served as a soldier instead of a swordsmith. “How long has it been
since you’ve seen her?”
Coal bit his lip while
he pretended to think about the answer he already knew. “Two months.”
Grigory took the sword
from Coal’s hands. It would be presented to Chalcedony on her coronation as
queen. Magic reinforced the silver shaft, and its black leather hilt emanated
heat and welcomed touch. By far, it was the best sword they’d forged.
“Before you go, I have
something to ask you.” Grigory kept his shoulder-length black hair tied in a
low ponytail and his beard trimmed. Both elven and dwarf blood coursed through
his veins. As the only known half-breed of his kind, he had the height of an
elf and the thick, muscular build of a dwarf.
“What is it?” Coal
asked. The way Grigory spoke made Coal wonder if he’d done something wrong,
besides being too distracted during the fight.
“I’m getting older,”
Grigory said. “I need to choose a full-time apprentice, and it needs to be
soon. Do you want the position?”
Coal’s breath caught in
his throat. Had he heard right? “I thought I was just helping out until you
found a full-time apprentice?”
“Well, you’ve passed
the two-year audition, and now I’m offering you the job.”
“But humans can’t do
magic.” It was one of the first things Coal had learned when he’d arrived in
the fey realm eleven years ago. Powerful swords were impossible to make without
magic. It made the swords stronger, lighter,
and prevented someone else from using it.
“I’m half dwarf and
half elf,” Grigory said. “For years, my master refused to teach me because he
didn’t think a half-breed could make a great sword. Now, I am the best
swordsmith in Everleaf. It’s what’s inside that makes a good swordsmith. I
believe you could be one of the greats.”
Coal had been coming to
the forge almost every day for two years, but he was allowed to come and go as
he pleased. With a full apprenticeship, he’d eat, breathe, and sleep smithing.
He’d have to move out of his home.
“I don’t know, Grigory.
I need time to think about it.” Coal enjoyed forging swords. He especially
loved practicing with them, ensuring they would endure battle, but he didn’t
know if he wanted to make it his life’s work.
“Your childhood friend
is soon to be queen. She will not have time, or tolerance, for a lovesick
human.”
Coal was hurt, but not
surprised by Grigory’s words. No one said anything to his face, but he heard
the servants and soldiers gossiping about him and Princess Chalcedony when they
thought he wasn’t listening. “You’re right, but give me time. It’s not easy
choosing one life over another.”
Grigory’s eye softened.
“You and the future queen still have much growing to do. Decide soon. I won’t
wait long.”
Coal glanced back
towards the rising sun. “It’s time for me to go.”
Grigory waved his hand
as if to swat a fly, before he turned back to the forge.
Bees and butterflies as
big as his hands buzzed around Coal’s ankles while he walked through a meadow
of red, yellow, and blue wildflowers that separated the forge from his home. He
felt guilty for not accepting Grigory’s offer, but as he approached his home,
the guilt faded and a smile grew across his face. He lived in Legacy, the
biggest tree in the fey realm, with his best friend Princess Chalcedony, her
staff, and a handful of ambassadors from every part of the realm.
At 850-feet tall and
ten times as wide as Grigory’s modest home, Legacy seemed to be larger than
life. Residing inside of a living, sentient thing made him feel like he was a
part of something remarkable. The moment he saw it years ago, Coal knew he’d
made it home.
“Legacy.” Coal touched
the coarse bark of the oak tree and instantly felt the life thrumming inside
it. “Is Chalcedony back?”
There are so many here today. How am I supposed to keep
track of any one person?
Legacy said, its voice
full of annoyance. Legacy was neither male nor female, but its voice sounded
female nonetheless. 
“Come on, Legacy. Is
she in her room?”
The tree gave an
exaggerated sigh as the breeze rustled its leaves. When last I bothered to listen, she was in her office and she was
asking for you.
“Thanks,” Coal said,
relieved to hear that Princess Chalcedony had returned. He removed his hand and
approached the two female sentries guarding Legacy’s main entrance. Like all of Everleaf’s elven soldiers, they wore a dark
green shirt with black sleeves and black pants.
“Where are you going?” asked
the taller of the two, who had light green eyes. She stepped in his way,
blocking the door. “The servant’s entrance is around the back.”
“I’m not a servant.”
Coal held the sentry’s gaze. He’d never seen these two before, but he’d done
this dance countless times over the years. He was a human in a world where
humans were mostly banned and thought of as violent, ignorant, and greedy. His
stomach churned as he faced the sentry, but he stood his ground. If he showed
fear, it only made the taunting worse.
“No.” The other sentry
stood a head shorter than her partner, but where the other was slender, she was
more muscular. “He’s not a servant. He’s just human trash.”
He swallowed. “Let me
through.”
“Or what?” The taller
sentry placed a hand on her sword. “You’ll tell the princess I was picking on
you?”
“I don’t need the
princess to protect me,” he snapped. “I can take care of myself.”
“Calm down, Sophia,”
the shorter sentry said. “Let him through. Today will be his last day here
anyway.”
“What are you talking
about?” Coal narrowed his eyes, his pulse quickened. This was not part of the
usual bullying.
“Don’t worry about it,”
the sentry said, pulling the green-eyed sentry away from Coal. “I apologize for
my partner. Her great-great something or other died in the human and fey wars.”
“Well …” Coal deepened
his voice, his attitude bolstered by the change in her tone. “Don’t let it
happen again.”
“Of course not.” The
shorter sentry bowed. “Again, I apologize.”
Coal walked past the
sentries and through the entrance, deciding they had only been trying to scare
him. But why would she say it was his last day here?
Once he entered the
grand hall separating the entranceway from Chalcedony’s offices, he understood
why Legacy sounded upset. Staff bringing food from the kitchen and filling mugs
with milk, juices, and mead crowded the hall with bustling energy. Almost every
race of fey had gathered in the hall—or at least every race of fey that
ventured out in the daytime—elves, giants, dwarves, satyrs, nymphs, and even a
few trolls.
Coal touched the wall
and said to Legacy, “The ambassadors aren’t supposed to be here until
tomorrow.” It had been quiet for the past three weeks. However, now that
Chalcedony had returned from the human realm, fey from every corner of Everleaf
came to meet with her.
Obviously, they decided to come early, Legacy said.
Disappointed, Coal
broke the connection with the tree. Before she’d left on her last training
trip, Chalcedony had said she had something special planned for the two of
them. Her duties came first, though. If she had to work, she wouldn’t have time
for him.
He peered into the
crowd, searching for the path of least resistance. Finding it, he lowered his
head, stepped out of the safety of the entranceway, and walked into the
congested gathering. The smell of goat sausage and fried eggs wafted towards
him, making his stomach rumble with hunger. He’d awakened before the kitchen
staff, and only had time to eat an apple before he’d left for Grigory’s.
“Did you really think
you were going to walk by me without speaking?” A deep voice said behind him.
Coal twisted round, and looked up into the grey eyes of the eight-foot tall,
tawny-skinned giant named Octavius.
“Soon…” Octavius winked
one of his gray eyes at Coal, “I hear you’ll be reigning next to Chalcedony.”
“Princess Chalcedony
and I are only friends.” Coal lost his appetite. Humans were considered weak.
If Chalcedony took on a human mate, she would be considered weak also.
The day had started
full of promise. He’d looked forward to spending time with Chalcedony, but his
plans were quickly unraveling. With the giants and dwarves here, it would be
impossible for her to slip away. And, for the second time today, someone had
reminded him he didn’t belong.
“Don’t look so
insulted.” Octavius grabbed Coal’s shoulder. “My great-great-grandmother was
human. I’d consider it an honor to have a human reigning beside the queenling.”
“Hmph, that would never
happen,” said Ambassador Eli. The dwarf seemed to have appeared out of nowhere,
his head a mass of dark curls. “Humans are exiled for a reason. They are
violent, greedy, and, above all,
parasitic.” He stared at Coal with light blue eyes and sneered.
Octavius shook his head
and clicked his tongue. “No, giants are humans, only taller. That’s why we
can’t wield magic. And there is nothing extraordinarily violent or parasitic
about us.”
“Stop it with the
myths. That’s like saying dwarves are human, only shorter,” Ambassador Eli
said. “If your brother heard you speak like that, he’d have you whipped.”
The temptation to stay
and listen to Octavius and Ambassador Eli argue nearly overpowered him, but the
idea of seeing Chalcedony pulled much stronger. They were too busy debating the
differences between humans and giants to notice Coal slip away.
Coal stood outside of
Chalcedony’s thick wooden door and straightened his brown pants and the white
shirt he wore underneath his green jerkin. He ran a hand over his braids and
noticed one of them had unraveled. He cursed under his breath as he re-braided
his kinky textured hair as fast as he could before he knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” asked a
gruff voice from inside the room. It was Chalcedony’s royal advisor, Madoc.
Coal was convinced that Madoc’s primary goal in life involved making Coal
miserable.
“It’s me,” Coal said in
his most formal voice. “Legacy told me that Chalcedony is looking for me.”
The door opened, and
Princess Chalcedony stood on the other side. “Legacy’s right. I am looking for
you.” She wore a black sleeveless shirt and matching pants that were only a few
shades darker than her brown skin.
Coal bowed, bending low
at the waist while happiness surged in
his chest at the sight of his oldest friend.
“How can I help you, Princess?”
he asked.
“Come in.” She stepped
back from the door, her muscular arms flexing as she motioned for him to step
into the room. “Since when do you bow, or call me princess?”
Since last week, when
Madoc lectured me for ten minutes about properly addressing a future queen,
Coal wanted to say, but instead, he kept quiet. The less he said, the less
Madoc could use against him when Chalcedony left.
Once he stepped in the
room, he saw there were three other fey sitting around the table in
Chalcedony’s office. Madoc sat closest to the door, scribbling on a sheet of
paper. He scoffed at Coal before he turned towards the stack of papers.
“If I am no longer needed,
I’ll be retiring to my room,” said Binti, the female waif who had been sitting
at the end of the table. She had a jumbled network of tiny blue veins that
showed underneath her pale translucent skin. As she stood up from the table,
the loose pink dress she wore buckled around knobby knees before she pulled it
down. 
Binti and her twin
brother acted as a tether between the two realms. If a rogue fey used magic in
the human realm, her brother felt it. Through the link the siblings shared, her
brother would let Binti know. Then, Binti would alert Chalcedony in the fey
realm.
“Go ahead,” Princess
Chalcedony said. “Thanks for your help.”
Binti nodded briefly at
Chalcedony as she walked away from the table and towards the door. Coal
shivered as she passed. The waif lowered the temperature of any room by five
degrees just by her presence. They were rumored to be children of reapers sent
into the physical world to live until they replaced their parents as harvesters
of souls.
Motion next to
Chalcedony caught his attention. He was drawn to the
blonde, blue-eyed elf standing next to Chalcedony.
Tetrick.
Chalcedony had spent
the past two years with the high-born elf. He was appointed by his mother,
Queen Tasla, to teach Chalcedony how to patrol her part of the human realm for
fey who were there illegally. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to escort you,
Princess?” Tetrick asked.
As usual, the royal elf
paid Coal no attention. Coal didn’t know if it was better to be ignored and
made to feel like he wasn’t worth a second thought, or to be constantly
ridiculed and belittled like Madoc treated him.
“No, thank you,
Tetrick,” Chalcedony answered.
“You should let him
escort you,” Madoc said with a tone that suggested it was more of an order than
a choice.
“No,” Chalcedony said
with such intensity that her long, sharp incisors were visible. “But thank you
anyway,” she said to Tetrick, her temper back under control.
“Very well, Princess.”
Tetrick bowed, and then the elf disappeared as if he’d never been there.
“You should have let
him take you,” Madoc said.
“Take you where?” Coal
asked. “I thought we had plans for today.”
“We do.” Chalcedony’s red
eyes were wide with joy. “It’s a surprise. But first, go get your clothes. Then,
I’ll meet you upstairs in my room.”
“What clothes?” Coal
asked, confused. She’d changed from all business to playful so quickly it took
Coal a moment to adjust.
“The ones you brought
back with you from the human realm.”
Coal hesitated. He was
five the last time he’d worn those clothes. “Why?”
“You should not
question a princess’s orders,” Madoc said.
Chalcedony huffed and
turned to Madoc.
“You’re dismissed,
Madoc,” Chalcedony ordered.
Madoc shot Coal a
hateful look before he bowed towards
Princess Chalcedony and left the room.
“Don’t worry about him.
He’s in a bad mood.” 
“He’s been in a bad
mood for eleven years,” Coal said. “I think it’s safe to say he just really
hates me.”
“He doesn’t hate you.
He treats you just like he treats everybody else.”
“Really?” Coal asked
with a raised eyebrow.
“Okay, he may dislike
you a little bit. Go, and meet me upstairs.”
“But—” he began.
“No more questions or
you’ll spoil the surprise. Just go get them.” Her voice was full of joy and
mischief. He’d missed it. He’d missed her.
Coal bit his lip,
stifling his next question before he left the room.
What could she possibly
want with his human clothes? They were all he had that proved where he’d come
from, but he hadn’t touched or thought about them in years.
Coal stood at Chalcedony’s
bedroom door a few minutes later, holding a ragged shirt and a pair of pants.
The door stood open, but the room seemed empty until Chalcedony stepped from behind her
dressing screen. He almost dropped his bundle when he saw her wearing a pair of
blue pants and a yellow shirt. Human clothes.
“What are you wearing?
How did you get those?” he asked.
“Jeans and a T-shirt,
the items you have in your hands, are very common clothes in the human realm.”
“But why are you
wearing them?” he asked.
“It’s a surprise. Give
me yours, and I’ll fix them for you.”
She took his clothes,
placed them on her bed and whispered over them. As she spoke, the holes in the
shirt became smaller until they disappeared. The material stretched, becoming
longer and wider. She worked the same magic with his pants.
“Wow, you could be a
tailor. That’ll come in handy if the giants do decide to attack the dwarves.”
“Ha ha.” Chalcedony
smiled in triumph. “Tetrick taught me this two days ago. I’m discovering more
abilities the closer I get to my coronation.”
He’d always been jealous
of Chalcedony’s ability to wield magic. Over the years, he’d gotten much better
at hiding his envy, but still, every time he saw Tetrick and Chalcedony
together, the jealousy and longing returned. Tetrick was strong, powerful, and
able to phase in and out of most places anytime he wanted. He was everything
Coal wasn’t.
“Fine, you can lengthen
clothes, but why do we need to wear them?” Coal asked.
“Stop asking questions
and relax. I promise you won’t be disappointed.”
She waved her hand and
an invisible force pushed him backward. She’d learned to move things years ago,
but it wasn’t until recently, that she’d moved anything heavier than a sheet of
paper.
“Okay, okay. I won’t
ask any more questions. I can walk the rest of the way myself.”
“Thank you.” She
lowered her hand, and the force disappeared from his chest. “Be careful back
there. I don’t want you ending up somewhere you shouldn’t.”
Reluctantly, but of his
own free will, he walked behind the screen with his clothes.
A wave of nostalgia
washed over Coal as he remembered the last time he’d ducked behind the screen.
It served as Chalcedony’s secret portal and her escape route if Legacy was ever
invaded, which hadn’t happened in over one hundred years. It was one of the best
kept secrets in Everleaf. As children, they would travel through the screen
pretending to hunt for treasure in the forest while everyone slept.
“So, what do you
think?” Coal walked out from behind the screen. He didn’t like the feel of the
stiff fabric against his skin, but the clothes fit.
She stared, eyes
narrowed.
“Did I put them on
right?” he asked, feeling self-conscious under her intense gaze.
“You look fine.” She
smiled. “You look really good, actually.”
“Um, thanks.” If she
liked them, he decided, they couldn’t be all bad. “So are you going to tell me
why we’re dressed like this?”
“Nope.” She wrapped a
black cloak around her lean shoulders and then handed him an extra one lying on
her bed. “Wrap up. I don’t want anyone asking too many questions.”
Coal followed her out
of the room while he tried to hide his excitement and curiosity. His joy
disappeared when he saw Madoc at the bottom of the stairs talking to Ambassador
Eli. He turned when he saw Chalcedony and Coal.
“You’re not taking your
shadows?” Madoc asked, cocking his bushy black and gray eyebrow.
“I know how to protect
myself.”
“Your pride will get
you killed. Take your shadows. I’m sure they would appreciate the exercise.”
She rolled her eyes.
“No. You have to start trusting me.”
“Traipsing through the
human realm without your shadows is not something a queen would do.”
“We’re going to the
human realm?” Coal blurted.
“Damn it, Madoc!”
Chalcedony exclaimed. “I told you it was a surprise.”
Madoc shrugged. “Take
your shadows.”
Chalcedony answered with
a sneer before she stormed out of Legacy.
Coal followed behind
Chalcedony while his mind raced. She chattered away, but he couldn’t focus.
Several moments passed before he asked, “Why didn’t you tell me we were going
to the human realm?”
“It was a surprise.
Surprise!” Chalcedony wore a mischievous grin that made her red eyes sparkle.
In any other situation,
Chalcedony’s good mood would have been contagious, but he’d been in the fey
realm since he was five, and he’d never left Everleaf. He didn’t know whether
to be scared or excited.
“Why are we going? I’ve
never asked to go there.” The fact that Madoc had not argued about Chalcedony
taking him worried him. If he knew anything about the elf, it was that he hated
Coal. Most especially, Madoc hated Chalcedony to be seen with Coal outside of
Legacy. His disapproval had grown more venomous over the past year.
“Are you going to leave
me there?” he asked, recalling what the sentries had said.
Chalcedony stopped and
faced Coal. “Why would you think that?”
“You didn’t answer my
question.” His heart raced while he waited for a response.
“More and more of my
work is there. It’s so different. Human tech can be destructive, but it’s
amazing. Every time I go there I think of you, and I wish you could see it.
That’s why we’re going.”
“What about Madoc?”
“Don’t worry about him.
Do you really think I’d just leave you in the human realm without telling you?”
“No, I don’t. It’s
just—”
“Coal, I’ve been
tracking rogue fey in the human realm and dealing with serious situations for
three weeks,” she said with desperation in her voice. “I want to have fun. I
swear that is the only reason we’re going. I swear on my mother’s sword.”
She held his gaze.
“How are we going to
the human realm without Tetrick? Don’t you need him to phase us there?”
Chalcedony shrugged and
continued walking. “No, we don’t need Tetrick.”
“Are we taking the
dragons?” Coal asked, his curiosity piquing.
“No, we’re not flying.
We’re taking the horses most of the way.”
“You’re not going to
tell me, are you?” Coal asked as they entered the stable.
“Nope.”
He smirked. “I didn’t
think so.”
“Just relax,”
Chalcedony said. “You’ll have fun. I promise.”
“Are you really going to let
them go to the human realm alone?” Ambassador Eli asked Madoc, once Chalcedony
and Coal had left.
“She may only be
seventeen, but she’s smart and one of the strongest in her line. I doubt anyone
can hurt her, except for a queen.”
“Are you sure you’re
not overestimating her?” Ambassador Eli asked.
“I may be, but there is
only so much I can do.” Madoc faced the dwarf. Many dwarven ambassadors had
passed through Legacy, and every one had hated the bureaucratic process, except
for Ambassador Eli. To Madoc’s surprise, the dwarf seemed just as concerned for
Everleaf as he was for protecting his people’s fortunes and trade routes.
Ambassador Eli stroked
his chin with a short, hairy finger. The
dwarf had never worked in the mines so he was slim, instead of bulky and
muscular. “I’ve been hesitant to bring this up, but you should know that most
fey in Everleaf have begun to talk about the queenling and her human boy. There
are rumors he is destined to become her lover and rule beside her.”
“I am well aware of the
rumors, but that will never happen.”
“What are your plans
for him? I expected you to have gotten rid of him long before now.”
“Chalcedony is supposed
to leave the boy in the human realm while they’re there.”
Ambassador Eli exhaled.
“That’s a relief.”
Madoc turned back
towards the window. Chalcedony and the boy were on horseback, leaving through
the gates. “But she lied to me. She is not going to leave him there. She is
still too attached to him.”
“Then, you need to get
rid of him,” Ambassador Eli said, his voice lifting.
Madoc watched them
until they disappeared from sight. “I can’t. The boy will play a significant
role in Princess Chalcedony becoming a formidable queen.”
“How can you be so
sure?” Ambassador Eli asked, his tone full of doubt.
“I had a few
truthsayers look into it. They all said the same thing. He’s meant to stay
until he decides to leave on his own.”
The dwarf scowled.
“Isn’t it your job to make her a great queen?”
“Like I said, I can
only do so much. I’ve shown her the best and the worst duties of being a queen,
yet she remains a child. Her mother and grandmother …” Madoc hesitated,
searching for the correct phrase, “had lost their innocence by her age. She is
too happy, and it’s all tied to the boy. Once he’s gone, she’ll lose her
innocence. Besides, I can’t kill him without her suspecting. She is young, but
intuitive. Out of resentment, she may hurt Everleaf. But if the thing she loves
leaves on its own, then that is a different game altogether.”
“The boy obviously
worships her. He’ll never leave without coercion.”
“Ambassador Eli, I’ve
been doing this for centuries. You have my word. The prophets have reassured me
he won’t be around much longer.”


Chapter Two

On horseback, Coal followed
Chalcedony away from Legacy, through the town square and into the royal forest.
After a few miles, they came upon a lake.
“We can leave the
horses here. We have to walk the rest of the way.” She bent down and put her
hands in the water. “Remember this place?” 
“Yeah.” The sound of
waves falling onto the shore mingled with the chirping of the birds and created
a melody, making Coal feel like they were the only people left in the world.
“We used to get in so much trouble for using your portal to come here to swim.”
“Well, we’re a little
bit ahead of schedule. Do you want to go swimming?”
“We didn’t bring any
swim clothes.”
She gave Coal a wicked
grin. “Never stopped us before.”
“That was a long time
ago.” Coal glanced nervously at Chalcedony’s chest before he quickly averted
his eyes. “We’ve changed since then.”
Chalcedony tilted her
head to the side. “We haven’t changed that much.”
She walked towards the
lake and took off her clothes. At least she was wearing underwear. “You’re
trying to get me killed, aren’t you? What if Madoc is watching?”
“Don’t worry about
Madoc. He promised he’d let me do anything I wanted today. And right now, this
is what I want to do.”
It had been a while
since he’d been swimming, Coal thought, as he stripped down to his underclothes
and followed her into the water.
After being picked up and
thrown into the water more times than she counted, Chalcedony ran out of the
lake and sat on the grass. It had been a while since she’d done anything merely
for fun, and she was glad Coal had warmed up to the idea of going to the human
realm. The rift that had been growing between them over the past few months had
finally closed.
Coal left the lake and
sprinted towards her. She was seventeen, one year older than Coal, and until
recently, she’d always towered over him. Her growth had slowed, and she would
look this way for the next fifty years. But Coal continued to grow, and
surprisingly, he’d caught up to her.
His ebony skin
glistened in the midmorning sun as he stood above her. “You give up?” He
laughed, one dimple forming on each cheek.
Madoc’s Rule Number Eight:
Never Admit Defeat. So, she changed the subject. “One of your braids has come
undone.” Chalcedony sat up and patted her lap. “Come here. I’ll re-braid it.”
He appeared as if he
was going to refuse, but sat down and laid his damp head on her lap anyway. She
undid the rest of the braid before passing her fingers through his thick hair
to remove any kinks. She grabbed a small section and separated it into three
before she began. “It took you forever and a day to learn how to braid. You
were the worst student,” Chalcedony said as she worked.
“I didn’t want to
learn. I liked it better when you did it.”
“You have gotten
better, though.”
“I didn’t have a choice.
You’ve been too busy to do it,” Coal said.
“Madoc thinks it’s
beneath me to braid my own hair. He most definitely didn’t like it when I
braided yours.”
Coal tensed beneath her
fingers at the mention of Madoc, so she changed the subject. “I love how your
hair makes a halo around your head. For years,
I tried to get my hair to match yours. But it’s only darker, not curlier.”
“Mmm,” he murmured,
sounding content and halfway asleep.
She couldn’t blame him
for being suspicious about this trip. He’d been correct. She was supposed to
leave him in the human realm. Agreeing to leave Coal behind was the only way
she could get Madoc’s approval to bring him along with her. Her coronation was
in two weeks, and she needed to relax. Coal was the only person she relaxed
with because he was the only person who didn’t expect her to be perfect. Lying
to her advisor wasn’t something she did often, but there was only so much
arguing she could do.
Coal’s even breathing
told her he’d fallen asleep. She’d forgotten how having his hair braided lulled
him to sleep—once she’d learned how to avoid painful tangles.
She bent down and
whispered in his ear. “I’m finished, Coal.”
He turned his head, but
he didn’t open his eyes. She placed her hand on his forehead and studied his
delicate lips, wondering if they were as soft as they seemed. She forced the
thought out of her head and stood, causing Coal’s head to drop from her lap and
fall onto the ground.
“Ouch.” He patted the
side of his head. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry.” Chalcedony
staggered towards her clothes before she dressed. “We need to go. It’s getting
late.”
Kissing Coal was the
last thing she needed to be thinking about. She stared ahead, avoiding Coal’s
gaze. Everything’s complicated enough.
“What’s wrong, Chaley?” Coal
asked. Her relaxed, playful mood had vanished. What had happened while he
slept? What had startled her?
“Nothing’s wrong,”
Chalcedony insisted. “We just need to hurry.”
“Which way?” Coal
asked, happy to be off the horse and traveling by foot. His butt and inner
thighs were beginning to chafe from the saddle.
Chalcedony pointed to a
bridge about a mile away through a small opening between the trees. “It’s just
over the bridge. I’ll race you.”
She sprinted away
before he answered. Relieved she had cheered up, Coal didn’t think to run after
her until she had already left.
Halfway to the bridge,
his legs burned and begged for him to stop. But instead of slowing, his pride
pushed him faster and closer to Chalcedony. She twisted her head and grimaced
when she saw him nearing. Chalcedony hated to lose. Elves were natural runners
and predators, unlike humans, but he’d been running with Chalcedony and other
elves for as long as he’d been here. He’d never won, but it never stopped him
from trying.
He broke through the trees
and into a clearing. The bridge was only a few feet away. With fewer trees, he
was able to run fast enough to pass Chalcedony.
Looking to the side, he
saw she was half a step behind him. He glanced back towards the bridge, just
before colliding into it.
Chalcedony was on the
bridge a fraction of a second later.
“I beat you,” he gasped.
“For the first time, I beat you.”
“You nearly killed
yourself trying to do it.” She stood next to him, steady and calm. A thin layer
of sweat prickled the skin above her top lip, but she wasn’t breathing nearly
as hard as him.
“I still beat you.”
Chalcedony stepped
behind him with a knife at his throat before he thought to move or defend
himself.
“If we were fighting,
you would have won a battle but lost the war. You no longer have any strength
to combat me.” The metal was cold and sharp against his neck.
Coal sobered, his
breath finally under control. “Is that what you think?”
The knife pricked his
skin. “Yes.”
He grabbed Chalcedony’s
wrist and twisted, the knife fell to ground. Then he pushed her onto the grass.
“Hasn’t Tetrick taught you not to underestimate your enemy?” he asked, standing
above her, feeling cocky and triumphant. Chalcedony swung her legs around,
sweeping Coal’s feet out from under him and sending him crashing onto his back
beside her. She rolled onto him, laughing and straddling him with her knees.
Her long, dark hair hung over the side of her face.
“Are we enemies?”
“Madoc says everyone is
your enemy,” Coal answered.
“Is he right?” she
asked. “Are you my enemy?”
Coal lifted himself
onto his elbows and gazed into her eyes. “Chaley, I would die for you.”
She bent down and
touched her lips to his. She tasted salty, but the kiss was sweet, and it
awakened a hunger that had been brewing for longer than he wanted to
acknowledge.


One
kiss couldn’t hurt, right?
Chalcedony thought,
but then, she lost herself in the sensation.
Coal’s hand brushed
through her hair and sending tingles through her body.
“Princess!” someone
shouted from behind. Chalcedony leaped off Coal. A royal guard stood a few feet
away with his sword drawn.
“Are you okay,
Princess?” the guard asked, looking from Chalcedony to Coal, and back again.
Bren, she remembered.
One of Madoc’s personal lackeys. He had ash-blonde hair with tawny-colored
skin. His face was twisted in disgust and anger emanated from his pitch-black
eyes.
Coal stepped slowly in
front of Chalcedony. She wanted to tell him to stop. Bren was more likely to
hurt Coal than her, but she didn’t want to take her focus away from the guard.
She felt for the hilt of the knife she hid underneath her shirt. “What are you
doing here?” she asked, looking over Coal’s shoulder.
“I was sent to patrol
the forest.” His hands shook, but he
never lowered his sword.
“Are you going to
attack me?” she asked with a haughty toss of her hair, hoping to draw his
attention away from Coal. Bren flicked his gaze towards his weapon before he
lowered it.
“I’m sorry, Princess.
Of course, I would never hurt you.”
Chalcedony relaxed,
released the knife, and stepped out from behind Coal. “Since when do we patrol
the forest?” she asked.
This forest hid the
door to the human realm, but it was not guarded. Only a select few were
supposed to know it existed. Patrolling would only attract attention. Instead,
an invisible barrier that prevented anyone from entering without permission
protected the forest.
“Um,” Bren stuttered,
his eyes lowered.
“Madoc sent you, didn’t
he?”
“He … um, I was sent to
patrol the door,” Bren answered. She closed the space between the two of them.
“Look at me,” she
ordered. He met her gaze. “Are you lying to me?”
“No, Princess. I was
assigned to patrol the forest today. I didn’t know you would be here.”
She studied him,
searching for a lie. She was not a mind reader, but Tetrick had taught her to
look past a fey’s surface to recognize emotions and truth. Chalcedony saw fear,
embarrassment, and disappointment, but there was no indication of a lie.
Perhaps Madoc had set him up.
“Leave my forest before
I have you banished for spying on me,” Chalcedony ordered.
“Princess, I’m sorry. I
swear I didn’t know you would be here,” Bren said, shaking.
“Leave now!”
“Yes, Princess.”
He placed his sword in
its sheath and stalked away. Once Bren disappeared between the trees, she
walked towards the bridge.
“Are you alright?” Coal
reached for her arm, but she flinched and moved away.
If she wanted Coal to
live, she could never let him touch her again. 
Coal followed her over the
bridge. “Shouldn’t we talk about what happened?”
“No. I shouldn’t have
done that.”
He was about to argue
with her, but everything was different, wrong. The air became denser, making it
harder for Coal to breathe. The trees, the grass, and even the sun were less
vivid. It was as if he were looking through a smudged window.
“Chaley, where are we?”
Chalcedony met his
gaze. “We’re in the human realm.”
“I didn’t see any
door.”
She placed her hands on
her hips. “If it could be seen, everyone would know where it was.”
He turned in a slow
circle, drinking in all he saw. The tree’s brown bark was dull and washed out.
The green leaves were watered down and muted. The grass cracked and moaned
underneath his feet as if it were dying of thirst.
He had never stopped to
listen to the everyday sounds of life; they’d always been in the background.
But the singing and harmony of the forest had disappeared. This terrible silence
made him feel as if something were missing.
The human realm, Coal
decided, was a weak, lifeless version of the fey realm.
“Chalcedony, stop. I
don’t understand. How did we get here?”
She frowned, gazing
into Coal’s eyes as if deciding something. “Few fey or humans know this. You
have to keep it secret.”
“By now, you know you
can trust me,” Coal said.
She scanned the forest, as if she were scared someone would
overhear her. Satisfied they were alone, she said, “During the war, humans and
fey decided to separate themselves so we couldn’t destroy each other.”
“I’m not stupid. I know
that part.” His anxiousness over the new environment was giving away to
agitation.
“They also created
portals to connect the two realms, because, in spite of all the war and death,
complete separation seemed unfathomable. Also, giants are humans. Every now and
then, a giant will have a normal human child, and they wanted to be able to
take those children to the human realm if they needed to.”
“Ambassador Eli said
giants weren’t humans.”
“Giants used to give
birth to humans on a normal basis, but now that humans and giants don’t
interact as much, it’s rare.”
“Why haven’t I heard of
the portal before?”
“Because if everyone
knew, the human realm would be overrun with rogue fey,” Chalcedony said.
He decided on another
random question. “Why does the air smell so different?”
“Their technology
pollutes the air.” Chalcedony walked through the forest.
The ground was littered
with broken tree branches that snapped underneath her feet. Coal marveled. He
was in the human realm, his birthplace. Despite his curiosity and excitement,
the image of the two of them kissing kept replaying in his mind. As he followed
behind her, he wondered when it would happen again.
“Wait.” She stopped so
abruptly that he almost bumped into her.
She pulled a pouch from
the pocket of her pants, placed her hand inside of it. Her fingers came out of the
bag covered in a multihued powder. She recited a few words before she placed it
in her mouth. Slowly, her long, sharp canine teeth widened and shortened. They
lost their edge and became flat. Her slim pointed ears curved. Her large red
eyes dimmed and turned black. She had changed into a human.
For a moment, Coal did
not recognize the person standing in front of him. His vision adjusted as if it was adapting to the dark, and
he saw past the illusion. She had swallowed glamour. Humans would look at Chalcedony
and see the false image. For him, it was transparent, merely an overlay, barely
hiding her true features.
“I’ll be glad when I
can change my teeth and ears. Tetrick says I should be able to do it soon. Then
I won’t have to use glamour every time I come here. Do I look human enough?”
she asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“But it’s not as if I’ve seen many.”
“Oh, right.” Chalcedony
rubbed the back of her neck. “Well, let’s go look at some humans.” She held out
her hand. “We haven’t gotten to the fun part yet.”
He stared at her hand
for a moment before he grabbed it and let her pull him out of the forest.
Cars. He remembered
them from his childhood. 
Red, yellow, blue,
green, black. They sped by one after the other, leaving metallic fumes in their
wake. Slowly he remembered other things, forgotten memories of concrete,
laughing and running, and a woman’s touch—soft and tender.
“Stay close.”
Chalcedony’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts. “Are you okay?” she asked,
staring at him intently.
He tried to put what he
saw into words, but the memories were gone just as quickly as they’d appeared.
“I’m fine.” He looked around in an attempt to anchor himself. They were waiting
for what he knew was a streetlight.
“Where are we going?”
he asked.
“A coffee shop,” Chalcedony
said. “It’s not far.”
When the cars stopped,
he followed Chalcedony across the street. As they walked, Coal studied the
people’s faces. Most avoided eye contact,
but some stared directly at him and smiled.
“We’re here.” She
stopped at a building with a sign that read “Ground Beans.” “It’s a coffee
shop. I figured this would be a nice place to sit and relax.”
Coal shrugged, noting
the hesitation in her voice. “This is your adventure. I’m just along for the
ride.”
She stood a little
straighter, and he followed her into the shop. Coal sat in one of the wooden
chairs next to a window while Chalcedony ordered. The noonday sun beamed
through the windows and the smell of coffee and baked bread permeated the air.
Chalcedony brought him coffee and a cream-filled pastry. For the second time
that day, he was reminded how he hadn’t had breakfast. He ate the pastry in
three quick bites. He’d expected for it to be bland, like the dull colors of
the human realm, but it tasted sweet and flavorful.
“I never get to do
anything like this.” Chalcedony bit into her pastry, chewed, and then swallowed. “I hunt rogue fey, and then, we
immediately go back home.” She leaned back and smiled as the sunlight danced on
her face.
“Why did you bring me
here?” he asked.
Chalcedony stared out
of the window at the crowded street. “I wanted to show you this. Most of the
people here are college students. Look at how easy they live and how happy they
are. They’re a few years older than us, but they have no responsibilities.
Their only job is to go to school. That’s it.”
Coal noticed half of
the people in the shop had devices in front of their faces and wires connected
to their ears. They didn’t look happy. They spoke in high, grating voices, a
sharp contrast to the husky and almost guttural sounds he had grown used to in
the fey realm.
“I dream about running
away and living here—maybe just the two of us,” Chalcedony added.
“Why can’t we?” Coal
asked. He liked living around magic and being in the fey realm, but if living
in the human realm meant that he would be able to be with Chalcedony, he would
do it a thousand times over. He reached out to touch her hand, but she pulled away.
“Too many of my fey
would die while Tetrick’s mother and Queen Isis fought over Everleaf.”
“Why can’t you just
leave everything to Madoc?” Coal asked, trying to hide his embarrassment at her
rejection.
“No male shall rule.
You know that. The other queens have only left me alone because it’s against
the law to rage war against a queenling. Besides, my mother made it clear
before she died that my duty would always be to rule and protect Everleaf. I’ve
never had an option, and neither will my oldest daughter. I’m cursed to reign,
just as Madoc is cursed to serve.”
“Hi,” squeaked a small
child wearing a pink dress and a tiara. Surprised, Coal and Chalcedony stared
at the child, speechless.
“Hi,” Chalcedony said,
the first to recover.
“Are you a fairy
princess?” the girl asked.
Chalcedony laughed
nervously. “Why?”
“Because you have
pointy ears. I’m a princess, too.” The girl tapped her tiara and swung her
waist-length jet-black hair from side to side. “I’m not a fairy, though. Are
you?”
Chalcedony glanced
briefly at Coal.
“What’s your name?”
“Elizabeth. I’m six.”
The girl smiled, showing a large gap where her two front teeth should’ve been.
“Where did you come from?”
“I am from the land of
the fey,” Chalcedony said with a low mischievous tone.
“Fey like a fairy?”
Elizabeth’s eyes were wide with joy. “Can I go there with you?”
“Elizabeth!” Someone
shouted from across the shop. A woman, an exact copy of Elizabeth, only taller
and plumper, walked towards them. Behind her sat a baby strapped in a high
chair banging a piece of bread against a plate.
“Momma, look. She’s a
fairy. See. She has pointy ears,” Elizabeth said when the woman reached their
table.
“She does not have
pointy ears,” her mother said with a strained smile before she faced
Chalcedony. “I’m so sorry. She says some of the most incredible things
sometimes.”
Chalcedony said,
“That’s alright. She’s not bothering us.”
“Let’s go, Lizzy.” The
woman pulled Elizabeth towards the table where the baby sat.
Chalcedony spun towards
Coal. Her eyes glowed with elation. “I’ve been to the human realm dozens of
times. I’ve never met another human besides you who saw through glamour.
Never!”
Madoc sat in his office,
hunched over his desk, trying to find the source of the pollution in the
giants’ water supply. He’d gone out himself to track the cause, but had found
nothing. If it had only been poisoned once, the giants probably would have
ignored it, but it had happened three times. They blamed the dwarves who lived
and mined in the mountains upstream. Thankfully, neither the giants nor Madoc
proved the dwarves had anything to do with it. The last thing they needed was a
war.
A slow, hesitant tap at
the door brought Madoc out of his thoughts. “What is it?” he asked, welcoming
the distraction.
Bren stepped into
Madoc’s office. “Sir, I’m checking in from the forest.”
Madoc leaned forward in
his chair. “I’m listening,”
“They were there,” Bren
began. “I was hiding as you recommended, but when I saw them in a …
questionable position, I had to interrupt and make sure the princess was not
being harmed.”
“What do you mean
questionable position?”
Bren cleared his
throat. “They were … they appeared to be kissing.”
“It’s either they were
or they weren’t.” Madoc suppressed a smile, amused by Bren’s obvious
discomfort. Bren paused and lifted his head.
“They were kissing,
sir.”
A slow grin crept
across Madoc’s face. Well, they finally
crossed the line. “What did the princess say when you interrupted them?”
“She was surprised and
asked where I had come from.”
“Did you tell her I
sent you?”
“I told her you had
told me to patrol the forest.”
“And she believed you?”
Madoc asked.
“Yes.”
“Good.” Few of his
guards were so good at lying. “Did you tell anyone else about this?”
“No, sir,” Bren said,
recoiling as if he’d been insulted. “Of course not.”
“Well.” Madoc sat back
in his chair. “Don’t feel like you have to keep it a secret.”
Bren grimaced and
narrowed his eyes in confusion. Madoc crossed his arms across his chest.
“I want you to spread
this rumor of them kissing. It may be a helpful catalyst to get the human out
of this realm.”
Bren nodded. “Yes, sir.
I understand.”
“Good. You’re dismissed.”
After Bren left, Madoc
closed his eyes. He tried to predict where this relationship with Chalcedony
and Coal would lead. It could only end one way: nowhere. He wanted to kill the
boy to ensure that, but he trusted his prophets. They rarely foresaw anything,
so when they did, he listened and obeyed. He felt the change in the air. He had
no idea what was coming, but he was looking forward to watching it play out.
Chalcedony couldn’t stop
staring at Elizabeth. The girl reminded her so much of Coal at that age.
“Chalcedony,” Coal
said.
She turned towards
Coal. For a moment, she’d forgotten he’d come with her.
“You okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine.” Coal was
trying to look comfortable. But she’d known him for too long to be fooled. His
shoulders were squared as if he was waiting for someone to start a fight with
him. He gripped his mug as if it was the only thing between him and death.
“You don’t like it
here, do you?” Chalcedony asked.
“No,” he answered
without hesitation.
“Why?”
“I’m not sure. I was
homeless before you found me. Maybe that has something to do with it. When we
first arrived, I remembered a woman. I think she was my mother, but then she
left me.” Coal changed the subject. “What are we going to do about the kiss?”
She rubbed the back of
her neck. She could dodge the question again, but he would just keep bringing
it up. Besides, he was right. It needed to be addressed. “There is nothing we
can do about it. Madoc will kill you if …” she trailed off. “We have to forget
about it.” She glanced at the ground, willing the memory of their kiss away.
“We’re best friends. That’s all we can ever be.”
“Queen Isis, in the
south, has a human mate and no children.” He stared at his cup.
“She’s a hundred years
older than me. No one doubts she’s strong enough to fight for her lands. I
don’t have that luxury.”
“Why don’t you fight
for what you want?” Coal pressed.
She couldn’t let
herself even think about being with him. The thought felt like a betrayal to
her mother and all she’d worked for since birth. “Why did we have to grow up?
It was so much simpler when we ran around Legacy all day without—”
“Without wanting to
kiss each other in the middle of it,” he said with a crooked smile.
“No.” She laughed
despite herself. “When we were younger, we spent all day together without
everyone gossiping.”
He sobered suddenly.
“Are you going to leave me here?”
“I told you already. I
would never do that. Do you want to stay?”
“No, I hate it here,”
he responded as if she’d accused him of
stealing something.
“Don’t worry about it.”
Yes, it would solve everything, but the thought of being without him scared
her. Out of the corner of her eye, Chalcedony saw Elizabeth waving goodbye as
her mother hustled her out of the door.
“Are you finished?”
Chalcedony asked, standing. Coal placed his cup on the table and stood.
“Yes.”
“Let’s go.” Chalcedony
hurried out of the shop. Just as they bounded onto the street, Elizabeth and her family turned the corner.
Chalcedony walked faster.
“Are we leaving now?”
Coal matched Chalcedony’s pace.
“Not yet.”
“Then, where are we
going?”
“You’ll see,” she
answered, but she didn’t really know herself. She wanted to talk to the girl
again.
As Chalcedony expected,
Elizabeth and her family didn’t live far from the coffee shop. Humans drove
most places, but not if they lived on a college campus. Elizabeth’s mother
unlocked the door to their apartment and stepped in. Chalcedony followed,
waited a few moments, and knocked.
“Why are we here?” Coal
asked, with an impatient, accusatory tone.
“Shh.”
“No. Why are we here?”
She knocked again,
ignoring his burning gaze.
“Oh, hi? Did I forget
something at the restaurant?” Elizabeth’s mother asked, recognition showing in
her eyes.
“Yes,” Chalcedony said.
“Can we come in?”
“Um.” She eyed
Chalcedony and Coal. “What do you want?”
Before she lost her
nerve, Chalcedony brought the pouch of glamour from under her shirt and blew
the powder into the woman’s face.



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