As the World Falls Down by Sereia

Chapter 2

His pelt trailed behind him as he wandered the halls, content in the quiet hours of twilight. The magic was always at its most potent then, shimmering over the walls as a gentle breeze blew through the gardens.

Centuries had passed since he'd been elected to carry on the king's legacy, though creatures such as themselves counted time differently. Years meant nothing to them, less to those in power, and he had made sure the members of the neighbouring kingdoms knew whom to bow to.

There had been no need for war, none to question his rule; even with the odd way he collected underlings, his strength had never wavered, so his time as king remained peaceful if a little monotonous.

A pair of defiant blue eyes came to mind, and he scoffed at the audacity of his own mind. She meant nothing to him—a simple deviation from the usual timeline when someone entered his realm.

She had sought to undermine his defences but, in the end, had only made him stronger. He had learned from his mistakes, turned her strategy against her, and none since had even come close.

Time passed slower for his kind, easily manipulated by those keen enough to use it. There were ripples between their worlds, boundaries, but ones easily traversed should a human dare call out to them. A decade would've gone by in her world, and though he had better things to do than allow his thoughts to linger on a simpering girl, she would pop up now and then, invading his mind and leaving it spinning.

But every time the image of her returned, she was never as strong as she once was, bowing to his will as he came up with new ways to defeat her.

He would not be made a fool of again.

He had heeded her call and allowed her to summon him though her wish spoke of a haughtiness akin to his own. There had been no danger to her little brother, simply a teen's wish for privacy and autonomy.

Perhaps that had been his downfall—those seeking his presence as a means to bring harm to those they wished away lacked the perseverance to save them in the end. She had realized her mistake almost immediately, hellbent on rescuing her brother if only to prove that she could.

She'd also managed to make friends along the way, their allegiance shifting as she somehow evaded the usual traps.

He would've admired her tenacity if she hadn't been so irritatingly persistent.

He'd kept his word in the end, returning the babe to his cot, but the damage had been done, and it had taken a while to convince his subjects it had been a mishap and not a pattern.

Those closest to him had offered counsel, encouraging him to get in touch with his predecessor, but he'd refused. Doing so would only allow the rumours to grow, to give the neighbouring kingdoms means to put forth their own names as next in line. He'd barely begun his rule, and though it hadn't been his choice, he was not about to give it up now.

He had often wondered what it was about her that sparked such loyalty. Each of her comrades had been thoroughly questioned and equally punished after the endeavour, but even though they'd returned to their duties after the fact, their devotion to the wench had never wavered.

It should've been admirable, but he only found it bothersome. Even in her prolonged absence, her presence still lingered, suffocating him at every turn.

His aura spiked as his jaw clenched, the few creatures in the hallway scurrying for shelter as he passed by.

There was nothing he could do to erase her from the memory of his subjects. Her power was etched into the walls of the shiro, leaving more questions than answers when it came to how she got through each of his barricades.

That she was human still confused him. Even more so than his predecessor's mate—and she had had no power to speak of at all.

Not like this.

It burned hotter than her temper, sparks flying at every confrontation. He'd been confused at first, thinking it an aftereffect of transporting her to his world, but it quickly became apparent that she could control it. And she wasn't fae. Or youkai. Her blood reeked of mortality, yet there was something else, something other, that simmered beneath the surface.

He scoffed. In all the times he'd imagined her since, her power came nowhere close to their first encounter. Her victory was all due to dumb luck and the help she received from her companions. And perhaps a little too much leniency on his part, considering the purity of her soul, but he had yet to underestimate her again.

She had no power over him.