Chapter Two: Predators

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Chapter Two:


As far as bloodthirsty murderers went, the goblins at the gathering were surprisingly calm about their leader collapsing onto the now-bloodied, broken floor. Or, well, post-leader, now. I didn't see who'd slashed the then-Erlking's throat, but the wickedly deep slices gave me no doubt he was dead.

Lydian and Soren stared at each other for a minute more, their features morphing back into those of inhuman beautiful, before slowly backing away from each other.

One by one, the goblins took their leave, grouping around whichever brute or she-goblin they served. Lydian, clutching his still-smoldering shoulder, gave me one last sneer before hobbling out with his retinue.

The space were we'd fought was covered by my blood. Raw meat and other delicacies from the table I'd jumped on littered the floor and I wrinkled my nose at coppery smell. With one arm crossed against my chest to stop the gushing blood, I limped back to where the iron nail was on the floor and shoved it into my boot.

Soren regarded the dead king with thoughtful eyes. I stood, waiting to be recognized; hoping that it'd be before I passed out from blood loss. He sometimes forgot that even though the Permafrost made it so I never aged, I still was nothing but a mortal--a mortal currently bleeding out.

One hundred years. One hundred years and he can still do this to me. Despite my attempts to stay calm I was overcome with tremors.

Forget it. Forget it. Forget it. It's over. He doesn't have any control over you. If that was the truth the fear inside of me would disappear like the wind and the festering hate would break free.

Finally, Soren turned, his scorching gaze on me. His eyes, so very much like a predator's now, took in my bloody body. "You brought iron into the heart of the Permafrost," he said, voice scorching.

I tried my hardest not to flinch. "You didn't say I couldn't."

His gaze didn't soften. "I said you could bring a keepsake."
"You didn't specify which keepsake. That's your slip, not mine."

The corner of his mouth twitch. "Perhaps I didn't expect your means of evasion to be so mature." Was it just the blood loss or did he sound actually pleased?

"Mature, Master?"

Now a smile was definitely playing on his lips. A smile. "Mature. Crafty. Not many humans would have thought of it, but after you're exposure..." he trailed off, running his fingers through his hair.

My legs shook. I wasn't sure how much blood I lost, but the black spots appearing in the corners of my vision told me it was a lot.

I tried to keep my eyes on Soren as he spoke only to find it was a bad idea. The way he looked at me chilled me even more; like he was seeing me naked and exposed and taking notes on every feature. What are you thinking? Really? "Tell me, Janneke. If you'd been caught toting iron in the Erlking's palace, you'd be executed. And perhaps so would I. That's quite the uncalculated risk."

Frowning, I said, "I'm sure you can figure it out. Your kind is better than mine at twisted logic."
Soren bared his teeth in a wide smile at that. "Humor me."

I swallowed. "Well, as a slave, normally I wouldn't be engaged with the others swearing fealty unless I entered into a fight. If I entered into a fight in the Permafrost—and the Erlking's palace—it would evoke the law of Winter. The fight would be between me and whoever I fought to the end. The winner would remain and the debt settled. So, carrying iron would give me a head over anyone attempting to fight me and if I lost, well, no harm would come to your estate as Winter's law would be satisfied in my death."

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