The Centaur Queen (The Dark Queens #7)(6)

Giving his question the consideration it was due, I squared my shoulders and studied the flame. There was only one way to test this for truth or deception. I would need to reach into the fire.

Tightening the laces of the bronze braces at my wrist, I took several deep, calming breaths. If I was wrong, this was going to hurt. The braces had been given to me by a wizened mage several years ago, a gift for solving an unsolvable riddle. The cuffs were charmed to ward off of injury, including that from light magic. If the magic was strong enough, I would feel pain, but the braces would absorb most of the damage.

Pursing my lips in concentration, I stepped forward, holding out one hand toward the heart of the fire. Petra sucked in a sharp breath but said nothing. I rather liked that about him. Most companions would be tempted to warn me to be cautious, but I knew what I was doing, and he understood that enough to let me be.

The rush of magic poured over my arm like sun-warmed honey, welcoming and definitely friendly. This fire would not harm us.

I nodded. “Yes, we go.”

Without looking back I stepped into the heart of the flame. Petra followed close behind mere seconds later.

Chapter 2


Galeta the Blue—now christened Galeta the Pink—stood at the head of the long table eyeing each of us with an assessing, frank stare. Most of the queens I’d fought in the games were present, sitting at the table along with their companions. There were also a few others who’d not been part of the games. Rumpelstiltskin, for one, sat glowering at us, looking like he wanted to kill us all for daring to remain in his presence.

Galeta was rattled, though not because of Rumpel. She was projecting an appearance of calm, but I knew it was purely pretense. She was as unsure of this new world and what it meant as the rest of us.

We’d all been here now for many days, debating what little we knew about the change to Kingdom, what we thought caused it, and where to go from here. Galeta and her companion fairy had left early yesterday morning to do reconnaissance. They’d returned not ten minutes ago, and we were all impatiently waiting for her to speak, hoping she could give us some new information. We still knew next to nothing about what had happened, except that all of Kingdom seemed to be afflicted by this dark curse.

Raising my hand, I waited for her eyes to find me. She nodded. “Do you have any more ideas about what happened? Have you learned anything after the day spent studying the realms?”

Briefly, the Pink turned toward the fairy seated on her left. Their look was brief but rich with meaning. Both their gazes were troubled as they turned back to me.

“The truth is, I’m still not entirely certain. At first, I thought there’d been a time shift—”

I cleared my throat, wondering if my own time loop could have played a role in this.

“—but considering what I’ve seen today, I can no longer be so certain of that. The only thing I can definitively say is that great and powerful magic has been unleashed upon our world. To what end? I couldn’t say, but we will learn it. For now, our best chance at righting these wrongs is to split up into teams. Each of you has a particular path, a particular story you must live. Aphrodite will, of course, return to Olympus, specifically to Calypso and Hades. Those two are linchpins for so many others. Rumpel will see to Gerard, for it is through his line that Rumpel’s happily ever after can be secured.”

I looked toward the silent and brooding blond magician. At the mention of Gerard’s line, his square jaw clenched up tight, causing a thick muscle to twitch repeatedly.

I listened with half an ear as Galeta handed out our individual tasks. One by one, those sitting around me stood and headed off to complete their journeys, hopefully helping to restore Kingdom to what it’d once been.

I stood too. She’d still not called on me. Galeta was speaking in hushed tones with her mate, a dragon shifter.

A few minutes later, he too took off. I glanced up and bowed my head.

Her smile was soft and expectant as she turned fully toward me and Petra. He had spoken very little during our days here, content to sit back and listen.

“How may we help, Pink?” I asked.

In the games, Galeta had been a woman built of ice. But that had changed. Almost everything had changed. Her body was lush and curvy where it had not been before. Her hair was no longer the blue of pure ice, but a golden blonde that bobbed around her softer, prettier face. Even the colors of her wings were altered. They were now a brilliant magenta that flickered with golden veins.

“You are truly the wisest among us, Tymanon, a centauress without equal. Therefore, I’ve assigned you the task of speaking to the three Fates,” she said without preamble.

Immediately I was repulsed by her idea. The Fates were three witches never to be trifled with. Though my kind inherently shunned magic, I was not typical of my people. I did not hate the arts. In fact, I rather enjoyed studying and learning them myself. Though I was not now and never would be proficient at it.

But the Fates should never be trusted. Their greed and thirst for greater power was legendary. Even getting to them would be a trial as they lived on an island surrounded by some of the greatest monsters of Greek lore.

I frowned. “The Fates? They never give anything without something in return. How am I to get anything out of—”

Nodding, Galeta turned her palm over and, after a sudden flash of brilliant pink, opened it to reveal three tiny, silver seeds.

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