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A Duel With a Siren Duke by Elise Kova


A Duet With a Siren Duke

by Elise Kova

Self-Published

Book 4 in the Married to Magic series


She sold her soul to a siren and now he’s come to collect.


Victoria risks everything to leave a dangerous marriage and gain a second chance at life. But when her escape goes awry, she finds herself caught in the strong embrace of a mysterious siren, forced to choose: temporary salvation or immediate death.


And so, a cursed deal is struck.


Five years later, Victoria is alive—and the world’s finest ship captain. But her debt to the siren looms while her conniving ex has demanded a king’s ransom as the final price of her freedom. Victoria refuses to cause her family to suffer any more on her behalf, and is determined to make things right before her time is up. But that time is cut short.


The siren comes for her. Six months early.


Taken to the magical and deadly Eversea, home of the sirens, Victoria discovers she’s the sacrifice upon which all sirens pin their hopes. If they want to appease an angry god and save a world on the brink of destruction, then they need her. Which gives her the perfect leverage.


Victoria strikes a new bargain: the Siren Duke will help save her family, and she’ll fulfill his demands. It’s a good bargain until a flicker of passion ignites in the scarred remnants of Victoria's heart, threatening all she's worked for. As the sacrifice for the God of Death, she’s meant to give up everything that draws her to the world of the living. But that’s impossible when all she can think about is how this handsome siren’s song, and his hands, make her feel very much alive.


In a realm of ancient magic, submerged secrets, and forgotten gods, can love find a place among shattered hearts as they race against time and the blossoming of forbidden desires? Or will the delicate songs of their hearts be silenced once and for all?

Genre:


Triggers:

Domestic abuse (not by love interest), violence, death, sacrifice

 

I'm not going to lie - I wasn't sure if I was going to love this book before starting.

I just haven't had success with books set underwater before.

I don't know why, because the fantastical elements surronding sirens, mermaids, kraken is truly interesting to me.

It could be that the ocean in general is terrifying to me.

Despite having one of the most beautiful covers I've ever seen, I just wasn't sure.

But it's Elise Kova.

So of course, she blew me away.

I went from not sure if I was going to like the book, to thinking this is probably the best book in the series.

I know I said that in my review of A Duel with the Vampire Lord that that one was the best in the series.

If anything, it is just showing me that this series is getting better and better.


Before I get into my favorite part of the book, I want to take a moment and appreciate Elise Kova's level of detail when it comes to world building. I mean, the Married to Magic series has been beautifully built up, and gets richer and richer with each addtion to the series. Just when you think Elise Kova can't make it better, she does. While this series takes place in the same realm, each book feels so incredibly unique when it comes to magic, and political and social structure. It all comes down to different magical species, and cultures. It makes the stories so much richer, and with this book, it's incredibly detailed and rich. The Undersea felt like a whole new world, and for the first time in an underwater setting, never once felt cheesy.


The story was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. The magic and culture of the siren, the characters, the romance ... Elise Kova mixed all these different elements together, and it made a truly wonderful, heartwrenching ... again, BEAUTIFUL story.

My favorite part of the book, though?

The characters. Elise Kova wrote a main character that immediently hooked me, because of how emotionally complex she was. Because of her past, and the trauma she had been through, she was just a wonderfully layered character. A more self-aware character. Which is why this story packs such a powerful punch. For Victoria to overcome all she has, to have to sacrifice everything, including her very self?

Heartbreaking.

The way Elise describes what Victoria has to give up in the tiniest details. The feel of something on one's fingers. The smell of someone you love. The sound of a siblings laugh. Elise Kova makes you feel the pain of the sacrifice.

Her words paints a picture that you can't help but feel in your soul.

And not just Victoria's sacrifice.

But Ilryth's too.

This is a story about two people who give everything to those they love, to their detriment. For Victoria, she gave everything to Charles until she escaped the island, then her family and crew. Ilryth was forced into a role he didn't want, sacrificing his happiness to be a duke, going through the motions, and almost killing himself for his people. While admirable, I couldn't help but feel hurt for what they both go through, and wonder how these two can end up together in the end after all the sacrifices.

But Elise figures out a way to give these two beautiful souls a happy ending, while also giving them a conclusion that feels right for their characters arcs.


Speaking of Ilryth, did I ever think I would fall for a siren? No. Did Elise Kova write a siren that is now on my forever "book boyfriend" list? Yup.


My other favorite thing about this book - was Elise's choice to change the tone, the flow of the story, towards the end. While it's a bit jarring at first, when you realise why, it packs an even bigger punch to the gut.

Honestly, I read this book months ago. Early September. And it still makes me feel things to this day.


A Duet with the Siren Duke both surprised me and blew me away. With its absolutely gorgeous setting, rich culture, layered, emotionally complex characters, and a heartwrenching romance that will sweep you away, Elise Kova introduced her readers to a whole new world, and one frigging amazing story. I can't wait for the next book in the series.







The sea will devour me, if given the chance. If not the waves and currents, or sharp-toothed animals, then the ghosts and monsters that haunt its depths.


If the cost of my happiness is the world’s judgment, then it is a price I’ll pay.


He beholds me in the manner one would a god, as if the world starts and ends with me, here in this singular moment.


“An offering,

Of life so fine,

Unto the old

And ancient divine.


Er’y corner of the land,

Er’y depth of the sea,

Shall open unto thee.


No plant nor man,

Bird nor beast,

Shall hold you back

when you desire release.


Ilryth: “Sit.”

Ilryth points to the center of the room, where a lone pedestal stands. I fold my arms and don’t move.

Victoria: “Say please.”

Ilryth: “Excuse me?”

Victoria: “Aren’t you a noble duke? Where are your manners?”


Victoria: “I know…”

I whisper.

Victoria: “I know what it’s like to feel like you’re a burden to all those around you. That, no matter how hard you try, it’s never good enough. You can’t love them enough, sacrifice enough for them…”


Victoria: “We all endure deep and difficult wounds. They’re not an excuse for handling oneself in a boorish manner.”

I squeeze her shoulder before releasing.

Victoria: “Never compromise your worth, not for anyone, not even for family.”


Ilryth: “I imagined a human would reject the truths of their world more.”

Ilryth wedges the chest in the sand at the center of the room.

Victoria: “I fell into the ocean, was attacked by what I now know to be wraith-possessed sirens, saved by a siren duke, had a strange marking put on my arm that gave me some kind of magic I could never quite figure out the extent of but now know it has something to do with being a human sacrifice”

—I count on my fingers—

Victoria: “was shipwrecked by a sea monster, lived after death, saw another sea monster, walked through another man’s memories, and am currently still existing underneath the waves…consider me primed to believe the impossible.”


Victoria: “You gave me your word that—”

I start.

Ilryth: “And you gave me your word that in five years you would be mine.”

Victoria: “Well, who came early?”

I arch my brows.

Victoria: “All of this could’ve been avoided if you’d let me get through the Gray Passage.”

Ilryth: “I went because if I didn’t, you would be turned into chum by one of Lord Krokan’s emissaries and then all of the Eversea would be damned for it,”

he growls, leaning in. I still don’t back away. Our noses are almost touching.

Ilryth: “Moreover, I never specified it’d be five years to the day.”

Victoria: “You also never specified otherwise,”

I counter. He opens his mouth to say something. Abandons it. And then starts again.

Ilryth: “Have you ever had a day in your life where you haven’t been unrelenting?”

Victoria: “No.”

At least not since I began life anew as Victoria. And I’m proud of it.


Victoria: “No person will ever have to sacrifice themselves again.”

I push off the step, floating up. Hovering just before him. Even though Ilryth is much taller than me from top of head to tip of tail, one of the magical things about being underwater is being able to look him in the eyes.

Victoria: “If I do this, if I can be a ‘worthy’ sacrifice and quell Krokan’s rage, then no human or siren would ever have to be killed again?”

Ilryth: “Yes, if you’re able.”

If I’m able… Have any words been more of an invitation than that? There is nothing like a challenge that will prompt me to action.

Victoria: “I’ve overcome more fearsome challenges than an angry old god.”

Charles is at the forefront of my mind.

Ilryth: “I hope your confidence isn’t misplaced.”

Victoria: “It won’t be.”


Ilryth: “You are a truly fearsome but impressive creature.”

I throw him a look that’s somewhere between forced smugness, and all my hard-won confidence.

Victoria: “I know.”


Ilryth: “You clean up well.”

A smile curves across his lips. It looks almost prideful. He has yet to acknowledge any of the other women and there are a few wounded looks.

Ilryth: “I admit I am surprised.”

Victoria: “You thought ‘salt-crusted and dingy sailor’ was my only state of being?”

Ilryth: “Don’t forget crass,”

he quips. I smirk.

Ilryth: “But you look beautiful. Dressed like this, and when you’re ‘salt-crusted and dingy.’”


Ilryth: “You know what it’s like to be obligated to marry for the good of your people?”

I laugh lightly.

Victoria: “All right, no. I don’t know that… But I do know how frustrating it is for people to try and tell you to fall in love, set you up, tell you to do this or that, what you should be focusing on…when you clearly have everything under control. When you know what your headway is in life but no one else seems to accept it because they always suggest you should have or be something more. Like, you could do everything right and yet—”

Ilryth: “It would never be good enough,”

Ilryth finishes, staring at me for a long moment, blinking, as if seeing me for the first time.

Ilryth: “I didn’t expect to find camaraderie with you in this way.”

Victoria: “Neither did I.”


If I can stop just one other person from making the same mistake I did…

Victoria: “Marriage is an oath that should never be taken lightly, nor should it be taken without the proper thought, or if you feel like you are forced into it. It will only yield heartbreak. But I also understand responsibility… So if it is something you must do, make sure the woman you choose knows the design of your heart. Make sure you both go into it with open eyes. Talk to each other, treat each other well. Even if it is not love, at least ensure she is someone you respect and be her friend.”


Victoria: “What do I sing? What words?”

Ilryth: “You know them in here.”

His hand slides down my chest, resting just above the swell of my breasts.

Ilryth: “You are more magical than you think. As a human, you are a distant descendant of the old gods—of a people who were handcrafted with the help of Lady Lellia. You have been marked with their power. Your soul is music for their songs. Search the voids in your mind where their words have taken residence and find the right ones.”

I take a deep and unnecessary breath, my chest swelling against his hand. Ilryth clutches me even tighter. Our skin seems to merge. His nose brushes my neck as he tilts his head.

Ilryth: “Now, just like in the amphitheater. Sing for me, my Victoria.”


I can’t do this.

What can you do, Elizabeth? Charles’s voice sneers at me through the barriers I try to put up in my mind for him.

Ilryth: “Great things,”

Ilryth whispers in reply.


Ilryth: “Now, I am going back to sleep. You exhaust me.”

The dry remark pops the little bubble of warmth that’d been floating up in me. My lips crack into a smile. How is he so effortlessly comforting, and also simultaneously baffling, with a dash of charming annoyance?

Victoria: “I exhaust you?”

I call after him as he swims away.

Ilryth: “Most definitely. You seem to require all my energy and attention these days; I can think of nothing else but you.”


Ilryth studies me. I must measure up, because he holds out his hand to me. I hesitate a moment, trying to ascertain Sheel and Lucia’s expressions from the corners of my eyes. But it’s impossible. All that truly matters—exists, even—is Ilryth and me. It doesn’t matter what they think or feel, what matters is what I do.


Ilryth: “We will save both. Your family and the Eversea. Together.”

Victoria: “How can you be so sure?”

Ilryth: “I…”

It’s his turn to trail off. To lose himself in his thoughts, words knotted.

Ilryth: “I have no reason to be. But when I’m near you, I find myself believing that anything and everything is possible.”


Ilryth: “Please, let me help you.”

Those five words almost have me at the point of breaking.

Victoria: “Help me? Help me like you took my life?”

Ilryth: “I gave you life. You would’ve drowned in that sea.”

He is calm and patient in the face of my emotions, even when he has every right to snap.

Victoria: “Only because you needed me to be a sacrifice!”

It’s easier if he doesn’t care at all. If I’m nothing more than a thing to him. It’s more painless that way because it’s something I can comprehend.

Victoria: “And even then…you mocked me.”

Ilryth: “Mocked you?”

He seems genuinely surprised and confused by the remark. It burns all the more when he asks,

Ilryth: “How?”

Victoria: “You told me I wouldn’t be held back. But all I’ve had is the illusion of freedom as I’ve grasped at straws, fighting futility for just a glimmer of happiness—a moment to live on my own terms…for me. I’ve had to keep running, and running, and running, or else it would all catch up.”

My mask is crumbling. I can feel it on my face as my chin juts out slightly. My brow furrows. My cheeks tense and relax, unable to make up their minds.

Victoria: “And it was all an illusion, wasn’t it? If not him, then you. If not you, then your god. Surely I’m more than a thing to be claimed. That can’t be all there is for me…there must be more.”

Ilryth: “Victoria…”

Ilryth’s eyes flutter closed. A pained expression crosses his features, as though he is mimicking mine. I seethe.

Victoria: “You mock me.”

His eyes open and in them is all the sadness in the world. Enough to drown the seas.

Ilryth: “I hear you. I feel you as though you are near even when we are oceans apart.”

His hands run up my shoulders to cup my face.


Victoria: “It’s not fair.”

Ilryth: “None of this is.”

His tone is nothing but agreement.

Ilryth: “It’s not fair that souls must suffer. That Lord Krokan has stopped honoring his bargain made with the first Elf King and escorting souls to the Beyond. That he rages and pillages our seas of life. That in his tortured state his realm bleeds into Lady Lellia, threatening to poison her as well. Nor is it fair that a sacrifice must be sent to him every five years on the summer solstice—an innocent woman who might give her life and have it mean nothing.”

I think of his mother. Ilryth watched her go through what I am. Watched her be anointed. Watched her memories be offered up, one by one, before her body was. Did she even recognize him in the end? Will I? The pain that courses through me on his behalf is almost too great to bear.

Victoria: “It won’t be for nothing,”

I say softly. He startles. Before he can speak, I continue.

Victoria: “If—when I go, I will do all I can to quell his rage. To be worthy.”

If I’m ever worthy for one thing in my life, please, let it be this.

Victoria: “But even if I fail, it won’t mean nothing.”

He leans back slightly, straightening, as if he’s drawing a slow, deep breath. His brow turns in slightly at the center. My chest is tight in sympathy. I reach forward and grab both of his hands, trying to share in his pain—to prove to him that it’s really all right.

Victoria: “It will be worth it to me just to try. Now that I know my family will be safe.”

I pat the bag of silver that’s at my hip.

Victoria: “Trying to keep them all—and the Eversea—safe for eternity will be a good way to go. I’ve watched people die for a lot less.”


Victoria: “How did you know it mattered so much to me?”

While it wasn’t a secret, it also isn’t something I’ve told him. He shrugs.

Victoria: “Ilryth,”

I say with a probing tone, so he knows he’s not getting out of this.

Ilryth: “There were a few times, when you were setting sail, that I caught glimpses of you.”

Victoria: “You visited me?”

I whisper.

Victoria: “Why?”

Ilryth: “You fascinated me.”


Victoria: “I don’t—didn’t deserve them. Deserve you.”

Ilryth: “Victoria—”

Victoria: “I was so lonely for so long, but I was never really alone, was I?”

A dam breaks in me. Tears I thought I’d long since stopped crying come forth. My hands release his shoulders and fly to my face, covering it, trying to hide from the world. Trying to hide from my shame for not realizing it sooner. Two arms wrap around me. Tight and firm. Sturdy. One of his hands slides up my neck, to the back of my head. The other arm is circled around my mid back, clutching me tightly. I am drowning in a sea of pain and joy that I never knew I was filling all those nights that I wept alone.

Ilryth: “You are worthy of so much more than I, or anyone, could ever give. I could spend a lifetime giving to you, and it wouldn’t be enough,”


Ilryth: “You don’t have to repay someone for their love. It’s given freely.”

Victoria: “But—”

Ilryth: “No buts. That’s it. It’s that simple. If someone loves you, truly loves you, it’s because they want to—because they can’t imagine a world in which they don’t. Because you make their soul sing just with your mere existence.”


Ilryth: “We’ve both known loss, and pain.”

He releases my face and trails his fingertips down my arms.

Victoria: “And we try to do the best we can because of it.”

Ilryth blinks several times, startled. He dips his chin slightly and the intensity of his stare is too much. He’s inviting me to peer into his soul, just as he’s peered into mine.

Victoria: “Not because of it, in spite of it. Who we are is independent of the trauma that tries to mar our souls. It is a part of us, it might teach us, but it does not define us.”


Victoria: “You want me to fear you.”

My words are soft as silk, but as strong as steel, and I am not backing down as he continues to try to loom over me.

Victoria: “But I don’t.”

Ventris: “Then you forget your betters.”

Victoria: “No, I know that you need me to engage in the anointing. You can’t force it upon me. I must learn the words. And I also know it’s too late to find someone else. There are only a few months left until the summer solstice.”

I ease away with a smug smile.

Victoria: “So let’s cut the posturing, shall we?”


Ilryth: “Victoria might be our tenth offering, but she will be our last. We have presented the best the Eversea has to offer to Lord Krokan, but it was not enough. Victoria will be.”

Ilryth looks back to me with a warm smile, his eyes alight with nothing but compassion.

Ilryth: “She is smart, astute, and capable. She has a zeal for life, and I swear on my mother’s life that I can see the spark of Lady Lellia within her. Never, in all my years, have I known a woman finer than Victoria.”


Ilryth: “Does this have to do with what we spoke of in the Natural World? Of you being ‘undeserving’ of love?”

Victoria: “I said nothing of love.”

I avoid his eyes, otherwise he’ll see right through me. I can’t think that way about us. Neither can he. It’s a risk that’s too grave for either of us to take.

Ilryth: “You didn’t have to. That fear of yours is much more than just love…”

Ilryth drifts a little closer, the small fins on his tail propelling him without help of his arms. Does he realize what he’s saying? What the intensity of his stare implies?

Ilryth: “Let me be the one to tell you, Victoria, without doubt or hesitation, that you are worthy of kindness, compassion, and love. And I will tell you it a thousand times over if that is what it will take for you to believe it.”


Victoria: “All this will be over soon, anyway. It doesn’t matter.”

Ilryth: “Of course it matters.”

Victoria: “Why?”

Ilryth: “Because everything, good and bad, is a part of who you are. It might not define you, but it informs you. Teaches you. We fought, and struggled, and bled to get this far in life. And while I wish you never had to suffer as I fear you might have…if you did, that, too, is part of the Victoria I admire.”


Ilryth: “I’ve decided I enjoy your company, Victoria. Is that really so hard to believe?”

Victoria: “I admit I wasn’t sure at first.”

Ilryth: “You are a complicated individual for me.”

Victoria: “Complicated?”

Ilryth: “There have been times when you frustrated me and there have been times when…”

He sighs quietly and I think he’s not going to continue. When he does, it’s so soft I can barely hear.

Ilryth: “When you make my soul sing with notes I never thought possible.”


Ilryth: “I do not expect my heart to survive meeting you unscathed. Though, I’ve known that for years.”

Victoria: “Years?”

I whisper.

Ilryth: “Years. Ever since I first laid eyes on you. Even if I refused to admit it. You ensnared me. Inexplicably and effortlessly became the object of my every desire.”

Victoria: “But, you… I wasn’t… How? Why me?”

One hand releases me to caress my cheek. He pushes a wayward strand of hair away from my face as gently as someone would shoo a butterfly. One hand touches me with tenderness. The other is still wrapped around me, gripping me so tightly his muscles tremble, as if forcibly restraining himself from taking me here and now. I crave him with a ferocity I’ve never known before. I want him to move slowly, to cherish my mind and heart. To be gentle with all my tender wounds. Yet, at the same time, I want him to unleash himself upon me, to ravage me and leave me breathless.

Ilryth: “Why does the sun rise, Victoria? Why do the tides swell or the fish swim in groups? Some things simply are. They are forces of nature and it would be an affront to the divine beauty of this world to question them. I do not want to question.”


Victoria: “I don’t want to hurt you like that…”

I press my eyes closed. My heart will also be left in tatters if we do this. But I have only a little bit of time to endure it. He has years. Yet, despite knowing all this, I’m not pulling away. For all the reasons we shouldn’t…I can come up with one, singular reason why we should that trumps all others: I don’t want to stop. I am selfish, and cruel, and needy.

Ilryth: “What if I give you permission to?”

His words thrum against my thoughts loudly, as though they originated from my own mind.

Ilryth: “What if I want you to?”

Victoria: “You want heartache?”

Ilryth: “I want you—and every risk and delight that comes with you.”


Ilryth: “Lay yourself bare to me. Tell me, what do you want?”

Victoria: “Everything I haven’t had in years. Everything I thought I’d never have again.”

I shake my head, rubbing my nose lightly on his.

Victoria: “I want passion and pleasure. I want reckless abandon even when I know it’s the wrong choice to make.”

Ilryth: “Let’s be horribly wrong together, then.”


Ilryth: “You seem pleased, Victoria,”

he murmurs.

Victoria: “You have given me more tonight than you realize.”

Ilryth: “I wish to give you even more than this.”

The intensity of the sentiment has me staring up at him, confused but eager.

Victoria: “Ilryth…”

Ilryth: “Not here, for…reasons.”

His tail thumps lightly against the bed. I can’t help but laugh.

Victoria: “Is it shameful to admit I was wondering?”

He hums in thought as he eases off me, lying on his back and staring up at the ceiling.

Ilryth: “Only if it’s shameful to admit I am all the more excited by your wondering.”


Ilryth: “If all my misfortune has led me to this moment, if every pain and hardship I endured was to meet you, then it would’ve all been worth it.”


Victoria: “Why would he hurt her? If he is supposed to love her above all others, if she is without peer, his chosen songmate…why hurt her?”

The question stings my eyes. It causes something forgotten in me to ache. A wound I bear that is reminiscent of the roots around us—still oozing. Though I no longer know its cause.

Ilryth: “Because, sometimes, despite our best efforts…we hurt those we love.”

He’s thinking of his mother. I can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice.

Ilryth: “We ask too much of them, or put them in harm’s way. We are a danger to all that we care for.”

I open my mouth and close it. It’s not good enough. The explanation doesn’t satisfy me.

Victoria: “Love shouldn’t hurt,”

Ilryth: “Victoria—”

Victoria: “He does not love her.”


Victoria: “Will you help me find these truths, if I seek them?”

Ilryth: “I will be at your side every second you are on this plane.”


I wish I had the courage to say that there is nothing in his culture that could turn me away from him. He could be from the ugliest, most brutal, horrible corner of the world, and I would still want to know all there was about it…because it’s part of him.


Ilryth: “You are perfection. You are as radiant as Lady Lellia herself.”

It is possible that our duet is clouding his judgment, but I don’t question him. I don’t want to argue. So I take his praise with a warm and ready heart.

Victoria: “You are equally so. From the moment I first laid eyes on you, I thought you were magnificent.”


Victoria: “I’m glad we met,”

I admit, even though there are still blanks in my memories. There are things he’s not saying.

Ilryth: “Me too.”

He kisses my forehead, lips lingering, quivering slightly.

Ilryth: “A human and a siren. What an unlikely pair.”

Victoria: “No more unlikely than the human breathing underwater…or being sacrificed to an old god.”


Victoria: “I can hear them now,”

I say as I stare out into the Abyss. The Abyss stares back at me tonight. Waiting. Growing ever more impatient by the week.

Ilryth: “Hear what?”

he asks from beside me. He gently caresses my arm, as if he seeks to remind himself that I’m still there. I wouldn’t be anywhere else. There are still two weeks until the summer solstice. I cannot be sent into the Abyss yet. But soon.

Victoria: “The songs of the dead,”

He’s silent for a long moment. I wonder if this information has displeased him. Finally,

Ilryth: “What do they sound like?”

Victoria: “Screams.”


Victoria: “Wait, are you leaving?”

Ilryth: “Yes.”

Victoria: “But you…but we…”

Ilryth: “Not tonight.”

The sad smile has returned. He sees my confusion and leans forward, placing a soft kiss on my forehead. With a sigh, he hunches over me. His thoughts are fraying at the edges.

Ilryth: “I cannot lie with a woman who has lost her sense of self.”

Victoria: “I know who I am. I am Victoria.”

Ilryth: “Where did you live before the Eversea, Victoria?”

I don’t have an answer.

Ilryth: “Where did you grow up?”

Still, no answer.

Ilryth: “Who were your parents? Your siblings?”

I pull away slightly to look up at him. Why is he doing this? These questions are filling me with panic. I can feel shadows clawing at the walls of my mind, begging release. Begging for clarity to dawn upon them and bring them back into focus.

Ilryth: “You might know your name, but you’ve lost all of who you are, and I…”

I hang on the word. I lean closer, as if maybe I can steal one more kiss. I need it desperately.

Ilryth: “I love you,”

he whispers softly.

Ilryth: “I love you too much to kiss you, to have you, if your mind isn’t with me.”

Victoria: “I know what I’m doing.”

Ilryth: “Yes, but I can’t help but wonder if your choices would be different, should you still possess every facet of yourself. I…I don’t want this version of you,”

he admits, and I can hear how painful it is to do so.

Ilryth: “I want the woman I fell in love with.”

Victoria: “Ilryth—”

Ilryth: “It’s time to let this go. Forget me, Victoria.”

He leans in and kisses me one last time. It’s goodbye.


I can hardly remember anything about and yet know with all I am. But it’s too late. It’s all crumbling.

Ilryth: “Victoria.”

My name is a whisper from his mind to mine—said like a promise that all we had, every glimpse I can remember and all I cannot, was real.

Victoria: “I love you,”

I say as I am ripped from the world of the living and pulled down, down, and farther down into the Abyss of death from which there is no return.


My eyes flutter closed. My heart sings with him. So much pain and hurt. For what? Why? The Abyss was made not from turmoil or from trauma that scarred the earth long ago. But from the ocean of tears Krokan wept for his lady wife. For his goddess. Gone.


Victoria: “How do we fix it?”

I ask as Ilryth collects his composure.

Ilryth: “No one knows of this on the surface,”

Ilryth says weakly.

Ilryth: “We had no idea.”

Kroken: “Because you no longer listened,”

Krokan says with an almost thunderous growl.

Kroken: “When she screamed, you did not listen. When she whispered, you turned your backs.”

Ilryth: “It was not our intent!”

Ilryth pleads for the old god to understand.

Kroken: “Your kind continued to demand more, more and more, magic and life your world sapped until there was nothing left of her!”


Ilryth: “I can’t believe I sacrificed you.”

His fingers slide against mine.

Ilryth: “My songmate.”


Ilryth: “It is not destiny.”

Ilryth begins moving again, reminding us we have little time. I help find the way as he continues to speak.

Ilryth: “True, there are stories that say the songs of some souls might be more naturally compatible than others—destiny, if it pleases you. But our songs evolve as we do. They are learned and taught, shifted and changed with our choices and experiences. We make our own song—the song doesn’t make us.”

Victoria: “Ilryth…I spent years where people saw me as the villain. Years where I believed their words—that I was a wretched, unlovable creature,”

I say softly. His eyes widen with shock. I continue before he can object.

Victoria: “But I know now…I’m not. I never was. I kept telling myself that I knew, but my heart never believed. But now I know it in my soul. I hear my own song so clear and true that there is no doubt. Let them try to sing over me. They will not. I will scream, if I must, to make myself heard. My truth and you are all I need. So long as you know the design of my heart—you don’t see me as evil—then I don’t care about the rest of the world. They do not matter.”


Sevin: “We have thousands of years of history, passed down in our songs. But not one speaks of this danger you foretell—of our gods dying.”

Victoria: “Did anyone sing of the rot before it began seeping from the Lifetree? Or the rage of Krokan churning the seas? Or the increasing frequency of wraiths?”

They’re all silent.

Victoria: “I know, it is terrifying when the world you thought you knew, thought you had control of, is suddenly crumbling apart. When the things you’ve always counted on—the foundation you built your world on—crumbles.”

Lonely nights. The illusion of safety, gone. Harsh words, heavy enough to break a young woman’s back. A barren beach.

Victoria: “I know what it’s like when you’ve lost everything, and the terrifying realization that it was in no small part by your own hand, even if it wasn’t what you ever intended. But you must keep going. Even if you don’t know the headway…or even if you’ll make it to that distant, hopeful point at all.”

One muddy footprint at a time, pulled away from a cold, dark beach. Down a road you’ve never traveled. To a city you’ve only ever heard talked about. To a life you haven’t even dared dream of.

Victoria: “We owe it—you owe it to everyone to take history in your stride and chart your own course. You can’t let your future be chained to the past. Claim your own destiny,”


Ilryth: “Stop running, please,”

he says softly.

Ilryth: “I’m here now. I don’t want to be anywhere else. So don’t run from me.”

How can the words be nearly the same as what Charles said when he tried to hold me back, but the feeling be so different? Perhaps it’s because Ilryth releases me with ease. Perhaps it’s because I know I could tell him to go and he would. I am free to ask him to leave me be. As is he to ask such of me. And yet…we both stay. Even when it’s hard, when it’s ugly, when everything within us screams run, we stay because we can’t imagine being anywhere else but each other’s side.


Ilryth: “If these are our final moments, then let us make a song that will echo into eternity,”

he whispers across my face.

Victoria: “No.”

Ilryth: “No?”

A frown tugs at his lips.

Victoria: “No,”

I repeat with more conviction.

Victoria: “These will not be our final moments. But I will have you all the same.”


Ilryth: “I could have you a thousand times, and it would never be enough,”

he pants softly. A tiny, wicked smile cuts my lips.

Victoria: “The night is yet young.”


Victoria: “I love you, you know,”

I whisper.

Ilryth: “I know.”

Victoria: “I really, really didn’t want to.”

Ilryth: “I know.”

He smirks. Somehow the arrogance suits him.


Ilryth: “You’ve spent so much of your life living it for others. Sacrificing, for others. Hunting for freedom.”

Ilryth’s eyes redden on my behalf.

Ilryth: “I can’t let you do it again.”

Victoria: “But this is my choice, just like it was hers. I don’t make it because I feel like I’m forced to. I’m not doing it to be worthy of love, because I already am. I’m doing it because I want to.”

I continue to offer him a slight smile, leaning in to kiss his lips gently.

Victoria: “And you, you need to go on and live. Reclaim your duchy. Look after the Eversea and make all the heirs that I will guard after.”

Ilryth: “I don’t want any of it. A life without you is a song without rhythm and notes. It is nothing. Less than nothing.”


 

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