Home > Dark Harmony (The Bargainer #3)(10)

Dark Harmony (The Bargainer #3)(10)
Author: Laura Thalassa

The Kingdom of Flora … fell?

The phrasing conjures up images of those giant cedar trees toppling to the ground, of the earth swallowing up the palace whole. It doesn’t do the truth justice—

An entire city was likely cut down. All those people just … gone.

I can’t process that sort of devastation. Not when we were just there. I danced and drank and reveled alongside Flora fairies. They might not have been my favorite people, but now knowing the deadly task those sleeping soldiers set out to accomplish …

“How many died?” I ask.

The room is silent, and the advisor looks helplessly at me while another shakes her head.

Too many.

All those sleeping men … the kingdom never stood a chance.

Malaki tosses a sheet of parchment into the middle of the table. “We’ve heard rumors that Mara got out in time, but the same cannot be said for the rest of Flora’s citizens.

Des flicks his wrist, and the parchment slides his way. The Bargainer’s eyes skim the notes.

“Fauna is gone as well,” Malaki continues. “Though from our reports, few died. There was no resistance for the soldiers to crush.”

There wouldn’t even be a palace to invade. All of that was wiped clean when Des rescued me from Karnon.

“The Kingdom of Day has defeated its foes for the time being,” another advisor adds.

My gaze moves to the table in front of us. Painted onto it is a map of the Otherworld.

The mainland has been completely captured. The only places left unconquered are the Kingdoms of Day and Night, those that float in the sky.

Temper leans forward. “How did that pretty boy king manage to defeat them?”

Malaki frowns, and it might be my imagination, but I’m fairly sure it bothers him that Temper thinks that Janus, the King of Day, is in fact, pretty. Particularly when it’s so obvious that Malaki isn’t pretty, with his eye patch and scar.

Clearly, he doesn’t realize that his ferocious beauty is just as appealing.

But now’s not the time to tell Malaki that pretty was never Temper’s type, or that Des’s general should be more worried about Temper ravaging his man bits to death than her having a wandering eye. She’s loyal to a fault.

“I imagine we’ll find out soon enough,” Des says, tapping his fingers on the table. His gaze moves from person to person. “The conquered kingdoms will regroup, and then they’ll turn their sights on us,” he says grimly. “My mate’s glamour can’t save us all. We need to figure out another strategy. This time, I want to be ready for them.”

After Des deals out official orders, he dismisses his advisors, leaving just himself, Malaki, Temper and me in the room.

“If we’re going to defeat the Thief of Souls,” the Night King says, “we need to do more than simply have a good defense against his forces. We need to figure out once and for all who and what he really is and where he’s hiding.”

“What if we went after Galleghar?” I say.

Galleghar Nyx, the formerly dead Night King is somehow decidedly no longer dead. Back in the Flora Kingdom, he’d been responsible for luring soldiers into the woods, and he’d been there the night I nearly lost my life.

“If we find him,” I continue, “we might find the Thief.”

Temper swings her legs off the table. “Girl, one problem with that little plan of yours: we don’t know where he is either. I mean, it ain’t like he’s standing outside, flashing his titties and begging us to capture him.”

I give my friend a look. “I guess it’s too bad we aren’t PI’s who specialize in finding people.”

Temper harrumphs.

Des stands, leaning heavily against the table. His eyes meet mine and he gives me a slight nod. “We should check Galleghar’s crypt at the very least.

“Cherub,” Des says, his silver gaze raking me over, “care to pay my father’s tomb a visit?”

So I can kick that fucker’s corpse in the balls?

“Love to.”

We don’t visit the tomb right away.

Instead, the two of us return to the King of the Night’s chambers.

I can feel the weight of this long evening settling on my shoulders.

Silently, Des comes up behind me and begins to unfasten my battle leathers.

“I’m sorry,” he says softly, loosening buckles and untying straps. “For this war, for putting you in the Thief’s crosshairs, for making you endure last night.”

“None of that is your fault,” I say over my shoulder, my words quiet.

“Maybe …” he muses.

His quick wit is gone for the moment, and I get a taste of another side of Des, one that feels old and wise and battle-weary. He pulls my leathers off my shoulder and places a kiss there.

Despite the solemn circumstances, goosebumps break out along my skin. He removes my top, and his hands skim down my arms.

The Bargainer’s hands slip farther down my body, and his magic peels away the last of my clothes, and the last of his.

“Let me take care of you, cherub,” he says from behind me.

For the life of me, I don’t honestly know what he means by that. He’s taken care of me every single day he’s been in my life. But I nod anyway because being taken care of sounds really, really nice right now.

Without another word, the Bargainer scoops me up and carries me into the bathroom.

The tub is already filled to the rim with water. Scattered around it are lamps that flicker with starbursts of light. A balmy night breeze flutters in through the arched windows.

Des walks the two of us into the tub, sitting us down in the warm bathwater. I swallow as the liquid turns pink. All the while the King of Night holds me close, cupping my head against his chest.

I don’t know why, but this is the moment all my courage and bravado falls away. So many people died tonight, all of them victims in one way or another. Some of them I killed myself. The proof of it is discoloring the bathwater.

The Night King must sense my shifting mood because he says, “It’s alright, Callie. It’s alright. We’re just going to rinse off the blood and dirt.”

I close my eyes and my shoulders begin to shake and it’s stupid, stupid, stupid, but I begin to cry against him.

I feel sixteen all over again. Sixteen and broken and desperate for the Bargainer to fix me, even though that was never his job to begin with. But he did fix me; he picked up each broken piece of me and put me back together and he loved my cracks in a way that only he could.

And then seven years passed and I grew up. I believed that all those fragile parts of me were gone, but here we are again, me with blood on my hands and thoughts of dead fae and that fucking Thief all filling my head.

I lean my forehead against Des’s chest and silently cry against him. He doesn’t need a confession from me to know what’s wormed its way under my skin. He cradles the back of my head and holds me to him. I sit there in his arms, keeping my eyes closed so that I can’t see the discolored water. Des begins to hum.

I pause for just a moment, recognizing the melody. He used to sing the same song under his breath back in my dorm room. At the sound, my sobs quiet. Because Des is here, comforting me as he used to, and even as I mourn the evening’s horrors, I savor this.

He holds me a little longer, and then he grabs a washcloth and begins to scrub my skin, raking the cloth up and down my back, then moving to my arms. He carefully runs it down my wrist and over each finger of mine, all the while humming that same song.

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