Ruined King (Night Elves Trilogy #2) - C.N. Crawford

Chapter 1


This was how I spent my days now: shackled to a mine cart at the end of a narrow tunnel. Life in the crystal mine—just me, my shovel, and my thoughts. I dug into the pile of rock. With a grunt, I dumped the chunks of granite into an old mine cart. Then, I jabbed the shovel into the pile of rock again. I’d been here three weeks and hadn’t uncovered a single crystal yet. I wasn’t sure they even existed at this point. So, it was just me and the dust and the granite.

My only consolation was that Barthol wasn’t here with me—that my brother was free, at least.

Lift, dump, lift, dump, lift, dump …

Sweat dripped from my brow, and my muscles ached. Ahh, here, I had the pleasure of an oppressively low ceiling, suffocating humidity, and dust coating every inch of my skin.

Lift, dump, lift, dump …

I tossed two more shovelfuls into the cart.

When things were really grim, I entertained myself with thoughts of slitting Galin’s throat. After all, his betrayal was the reason I was here.

I wanted Skalei, my shadow-blade, desperately. I missed her familiar steel, the razor-sharp edge that could slice an elf’s throat to the bone. That could cut through anything, really. If I had Skalei, I’d hack off my shackles and be on my way to the surface in seconds. I’d literally carve a path if I had to. A few dead guards would be a small price to pay for my freedom.

Too bad all I had was a rusty iron shovel. I doubted it could even bash an elf’s head in.

Lift, dump, lift, dump …

Rage gathered within me at the thought of Galin. I’d kill him someday. That thought perked me up.

I hummed as I worked. Not entirely in tune, but still recognizable: “Single Ladies.” The music of the Great Queen Beyoncé, who’d once ruled before Ragnarok.

Sweat mixed with the dust on my body, and I jabbed at the rock pile like my shovel was Skalei delivering the coup de grace. Beyoncé represented strength, honor. The very qualities I needed to possess if I were to achieve my destiny. I’d make up for allowing Galin to trick me into helping him—him, of all people. The vilest enemy of the Night Elves.

I continued to jab the shovel at the pile of stones. I was the North Star. The one destined to free my people. I would escape, retrieve Skalei, and then I would pierce Galin’s heart. He was mortal now. I could hurt him. A single stab to the aorta and his blood would pool at my feet. Game over.

Lift, dump, lift, dump …

Dust rose from the rocks, nearly as thick and dark as the anger that clouded my mind. I hummed “Single Ladies” as loud as I dared.

When I saw him again, I wouldn’t let his infuriating beauty blind me to what he really was. And when he was dead, I’d feel the sun shining on me again. Because I knew that when his soul was in Hel, I’d finally be free of him, redeemed in the eyes of my people.

“Ali?” a voice cut in, wrenching me from my daydream.

Even without looking over my shoulder, I recognized the voice. Her name was Hulda. Technically, she was another Night Elf prisoner like myself, but while I was becoming thin and wiry from shoveling rocks, Hulda was healthy and beautiful from all the time she spent eating raspberries and cream and pies. While most of us starved, the guards gave her extra food and easy work. In exchange, she fed them information. She spied on us.

Unencumbered by leg shackles, she sauntered up to me. She leaned over my shoulder, crowding my physical space, and looked at my rock pile through tired eyes. “Whatcha doing?” she asked, as if shoveling rocks was some sort of novel task she’d never heard of before.

“It’s this amazing new hobby I have called shoveling rocks. Really tones up the arms and the abs. Want to try?” I slung another shovel-full of granite into the mine cart.

“Why were you making that horrible noise?”

“What are you talking about?” If there was one thing I’d learned since they sent me down here, it was to never admit guilt. It actually made the punishment worse.

“You were moaning. It sounded like words, but I couldn’t understand them.” Hulda’s eyes narrowed. “Was that horrific noise supposed to be singing?”

Not sure I liked her tone. “Hulda, I’m sure you have more important things to do than review