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       The Queen of All That Lives (The Fallen World Book 3), p.1

           Laura Thalassa
 
The Queen of All That Lives (The Fallen World Book 3)


  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Epilogue

  To my readers

  Grandma Hall,

  You’re the woman I aspire to be. No dedication can do you justice. Thank you for being a beautiful human being.

  Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

  —Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad Gita

  Prologue

  We found her.

  Finally.

  There had always been rumors that the undying king’s queen lived. That she slept deep in the earth. That the king, mad with grief, put her there.

  I step up to the golden sarcophagus, my men fanning out around it.

  They weren’t rumors.

  The subterranean temple is just as the blueprint said it would be—same size, same location. Only, my information never told me it would look like this. I’m a hardened man, and even I have goosebumps being in this place. The gold, the marble, the shrine set in the middle of the room surrounded by a moat of water. All to encase a supposedly living woman. And not just any woman; we’re retrieving a being this king and the rest of the world have all but worshiped for a hundred years.

  “You’re recording all this?” I say to one of my men, my voice echoing. They’re the first words any one of us has breathed since entering the chamber.

  He nods, the compact camera he holds focused on the coffin.

  Styx would kill a hundred men to be here. Instead he’s forced to watch from behind a screen.

  I holster my gun and reach out, my hand trailing over the golden ivy that covers the sarcophagus. I find the lip of the lid, and my fingers curl over the edge. I’m almost afraid of what we’ll find once we lift this sucker. I know what Serenity Lazuli looks like—everyone does—but the mythical woman has been gone for a century. For all I know, we’re about to come face-to-face with her mummified remains.

  “On the count of three,” I say.

  “One.” If the king finds us, we’re all dead men.

  “Two.” If what lies inside this casket is everything we hoped for, the war might finally end.

  “Three.”

  My lips curl back as we push off the lid. Beneath it …

  “Holy shit,” I breathe.

  Inside rests a woman, her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes closed. I take in her long golden hair, the smooth, pale skin, the deep scar that mars an otherwise beautiful face.

  They definitely weren’t rumors, and these are definitely not Serenity Lazuli’s mummified remains. As we watch, her eyes move beneath closed lids.

  The queen lives.

  Chapter 1

  Serenity

  I draw in a breath of air.

  Exhale.

  I draw in another. And another.

  The air tastes good. Is that even possible? To taste air? Because in this moment I swear I can. I take deeper and deeper lungfuls. Light filters in through my closed lids, beckoning like an eager lover.

  “She’s waking up!”

  “I can see that, you wanker.”

  “Harvey, you capturing all this?”

  “Styx is getting the livestream as we speak.”

  “Would you fuckers shut up? You’re going to scare her.”

  My eyes flutter open. At first, I see nothing. The light is too bright. But then my eyes adjust, slowly. Color bleeds in and my surroundings began to take shape.

  I stare up at a metal roof. My brows furrow. The king’s ceilings are either gilded molding or exposed wood. Not dented, rust-stained metal. And never so low.

  That’s when I notice the rocking. My body shakes from side to side. I’m inside a vehicle, I realize.

  What the hell is going on?

  I brace my hands against the edge of the bed I lay in, my pulse climbing.

  Nothing about this is right. People don’t wake up like this.

  Where am I, and why can’t I remember how I got here?

  “I can’t believe we did it.”

  I startle at the voice. I have an audience—of course I do. Situations like this don’t just happen; people orchestrate them.

  I begin to sit up.

  “Whoa, whoa, my queen,” a man to my right says, placing a hand on my chest, “easy.”

  I glance down at the hand touching my chest. I follow it back to its owner. A soldier in his late twenties stares back. He’s not the king, and these are not the king’s men. Which can only mean …

  I got fucking abducted.

  Again.

  “Who are you?” I ask, my voice hard.

  I’m going to have to hurt more people, kill more people. That’s the only way anyone’s going to learn that I make a terrible captive.

  The man dips his head. “Jace Bridges, Your Majesty. Former infantryman in the king’s army. Current regional commander of the special ops unit, European division, of the First Free Men.”

  All I got from that was that this man is dangerous. That’s helpful to know.

  Five other men circle my bed. All soldiers by the looks of them, all equipped with weaponry, all standing between me and freedom. They stare a little too intensely, making me distinctly aware that for all my training, I am still just a woman lying in a bed in the back of some vehicle, surrounded by a bunch of men. There are too many of them and only one of me. I could easily be overpowered.

  As my gaze sweeps over the soldiers, they dip their heads and murmur, “Your Majesty.”

  And all of them show me reverence. This is a first. I’m used to being hated. I don’t know what to do with their respect.

  One of them holds a camera, its lens trained on me. I frown, unsettled at the sight. If they’re here to liberate me, why do I feel like an animal on exhibit?

  The First Fr
ee Men. I’ve never heard of the organization, but I hope to God the king has, otherwise I’m going this one alone.

  The king.

  “Where is Montes?” I demand.

  The six of them share a look.

  “He’s far away, Your Majesty,” Jace says. The way he says the words, it’s as though they’re meant to reassure me.

  Where is he? And why can’t I remember?

  “Is he dead?” I ask. And now I really have to control my voice. The thought of my brutal husband ceasing to exist is … unfathomable.

  Another look passes between them in.

  “No, Your Majesty.”

  I release a shaky breath.

  Alive.

  I can work with alive.

  “Why did you take me?” My eyes pass over the soldiers again.

  They look at me wondrously, like I hold the answers to all their problems.

  I’m in a car full of eager men. Not good.

  Jace leans forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. “How much do you remember?”

  Remember? My blood chills. If this is another one of the king’s memory serums …

  But that cannot be. I wouldn’t remember him, I wouldn’t remember myself—I wouldn’t remember anything before this moment.

  And I do. Don’t I?

  I eye the soldier warily. “Remember what?”

  Jace sighs and rubs his face. “Does someone else want to take this on?”

  “Shit no,” one of the other soldiers says.

  My heart is still pounding like mad, but now it has more to do with confusion than adrenaline.

  “Your Majesty—”

  “Stop calling me that,” I interject. I hate the title, hate that the king made me what I am.

  Jace inclines his head. “Mrs. Lazuli—”

  Naturally, he chooses a name that’s even worse.

  “Serenity,” I say.

  “Serenity,” he repeats. “My men and I were given the task of finding the lost queen.”

  I frown.

  “We’ve been searching for you for decades.”

  I stop breathing.

  What in God’s name … ?

  I look over them again just to memorize their faces.

  These men have lost their minds. People don’t disappear for decades. I don’t disappear for decades.

  I went to bed last night, right after … right after …

  “We found you buried beneath one of the king’s palaces. He’s kept you there for close to half a century, as far as we can tell.”

  Now we’ve gone from decades to fifty years? This is like one of those stories that gets bigger every time it’s retold.

  “What do you want?” I ask, sitting up a little straighter and eyeing the back doors of the vehicle.

  “Jace, she needs proof,” one of the other men says.

  Jace squeezes the back of his neck. “I don’t have proof.”

  “Wait,” another soldier says. He reaches into the back pocket of his fatigues and pulls out a folded piece of paper. He tosses it onto my lap.

  I raise an eyebrow as I stare down at it.

  Nothing about the situation is going as it should. My kidnappers are not demanding things of me; they’re beseeching me to understand what they’re telling me. To be fair, what they are telling me is insane.

  “A piece of paper is supposed to convince me I’ve been gone for fifty years?” I say.

  “Not gone,” Jace corrects. “Asleep. We found you in one of the king’s fabled Sleepers.”

  My attention snaps to Jace. The Sleeper. I’d almost forgotten about the machine. The last time I had gotten in one of those was right after the king and I lost our child.

  The memory has me tightening my lips and squeezing the sheets beneath my fingers. At least I can rule out memory suppressant. I remember that moment in vivid detail, and oh how I would like to forget.

  “Open the paper, Serenity,” Jace says.

  I grab it, mostly because I’m curious. That, and I’m still unarmed and surrounded by six soldiers who have taken a keen interest in me.

  I open the crumpled sheet.

  Staring back at me … is me.

  It’s more of a sketch, really. My face is outlined in black and shaded in yellow and navy. The king’s colors. I stare directly at the viewer, my face resolute.

  I touch my scar as I notice the one on paper. It starts at the corner of my eye and drags down my cheek, making me look dangerous, wicked even. Beneath my image is the phrase, Freedom or Death.

  I don’t know what to make of this. Their proof hasn’t convinced me of anything, except that maybe a few of my subjects don’t hate me as much as I assumed they did.

  “That poster has been in circulation for almost a century.”

  I fold the paper. “And now it’s a century. By the time we arrive to whatever destination you have in mind, you’ll tell me I’ve been gone for a millennia.”

  “Jace, you’re doing great man,” one of the other soldiers says. It’s a jibe, and it only confuses me more.

  “If you want to fucking jump in, be my guest,” Jace says.

  He returns his attention to me. He rubs his cheek, studying my face. “How am I going to get you to believe me?”

  “You’re not,” I say. I’m not a big fan of trusting strangers, especially ones that kidnap me.

  And there it is again. These men took me. Perhaps if it had been the first time, or even the second that this had happened to me, I’d be more interested in escape than revenge. But it isn’t. When I get the chance, and I will get the chance, I will mow these men down.

  My eyes flick to Jace’s gun.

  His gaze follows mine to his weapon. He covers it with his hand. “My queen, I understand you are confused, but if you get violent, we will have to as well. And I really don’t want that.”

  I meet his eyes, and the corner of my mouth curls slowly. I’m made of violence and pain. He might as well have welcomed me home.

  The atmosphere in the vehicle changes subtly. The men are on guard.

  “What do you want?” I say.

  Jace looks at me square in the eye, and I notice that, just like his comrades, he stares at me like I’m the answer to his problems. “We want you to end the war.”

  Chapter 2

  Serenity

  The last I remembered, the war was over.

  No—war had broken out again. The king’s council had turned on him. I had been working with the king to suppress the insurgents in South America.

  “You do realize I have been doing exactly that since war broke out.”

  The soldiers exchange another look.

  “Goddamnit,” I say, “stop acting like I’m crazy.”

  The vehicle falls silent for several seconds, the only sound the jiggle of the bed’s rickety frame and the men’s weapons.

  “No one believes you’re crazy,” Jace finally says.

  He sounds so reasonable. That in and of itself is infuriating.

  He leans forward. “Look at what you’re wearing.”

  I narrow my eyes at him.

  “This isn’t a trick. Look at your outfit.”

  Hesitantly, I do.

  I wear a fitted bodice of pale gold silk. A layer of delicate lace flowers overlays it.

  I pull the blanket covering my legs aside. The material drips down my body, all the way to my feet. I hadn’t noticed it earlier, but now that Jace has forced my eyes to take in my clothing, I realize how unusual my outfit is.

  “Do you remember when you put that dress on?” he asks.

  I run my fingers over the material. The honest truth is I’ve never seen this dress in my life.

  “Do
you?” Jace pushes.

  I look up. All six of them are watching me with baited breath. They’re waiting for … something.

  “No.” Without meaning to, I’ve fisted the soft material.

  Jace rubs his hands together. “What is the last thing you remember?”

  It’s a good question, one I hadn’t seriously pondered since I woke up here.

  My eyes lose focus as I retrace my final memories. The king and I had been working together to stop his traitorous advisors.

  I remember him saying he loved me.

  The revelation hits me all over again. It never should’ve happened, but in my world, a world filled with bloodly, broken bodies, love had grown in the most desolate of places.

  I force myself to move past this memory, to the next one. Waking up, the blood-speckled sheets. I worried that the king had seen the evidence of my sickness. I reassured myself that he hadn’t.

  I searched for him, but I couldn’t find him. I was sent to a room on the east wing and told he’d be there. But he wasn’t.

  It was a trap.

  It was a trap.

  I go cold all over.

  The king had me cornered. I jumped three stories into the waiting arms of his guards.

  And then …

  “This isn’t forever,” the king says.

  The last thing I see is the king’s face, and the last thing I hear is his voice. He leans over me, and I feel a hand stroke my face. “We’ll only be apart for a short while. Once we cure your sickness, you’ll be mine again.”

  I choke on a wrathful cry. He betrayed me. Drugged me, forced me to endure the Sleeper until he could cure me of my cancer.

  I’d imagined months, years maybe, but decades?

  I feel my nostrils flare as a tear drips down my cheek.

  Not just decades.

  A century, if what these men say is true. Locked away so that he wouldn’t have to lose me.

  It feels like someone has stacked stones on my chest. I can’t seem to catch my breath.

  Monsters will be monsters. Why I thought mine was any different, I cannot say.

  Perhaps because I am a foolish girl.

  I can feel it, my anger, like a storm brewing on the horizon. Right now, my shock and pain are all I can focus on. But my fury is coming, and when it hits, no one is going to be adequately prepared for it.

 
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