The Girl King (The Girl King #1)

The Girl King (The Girl King #1)

Mimi Yu


It was well before dawn when the Ana and Aba stirred the priestess from her bed. Had she been anyone else she might have been deep in slumber. As it was, she did not sleep much, and though she’d been still and supine, her eyes had been open. Gods did not bother with words, but they had their own language. When she felt Them surge like lifeblood through the stone walls and floors of the temple, she knew, and she rose.

The priestess was unsurprised to find her brothers waiting for her in the sanctum. The city’s borders fell under Jin’s purview as the Steel Star; he would have felt the disturbance at the gate in his blood, like the first distant rumble of thunder before a summer storm. As for Shen, little that happened in Yunis ever escaped his attention.

The men sat on their crystalline thrones before the fire. Shen was already staring into it, his face stern and tense. Jin stifled a yawn; soft and rumpled with sleep, he looked half a boy. He’d been young, no more than twenty, when the city fell and they’d been forced to flee into the Inbetween. Time flowed strange and uneven here. It had been seventeen years since, but he hadn’t aged a day. None of them had.

“It’s the lake gate again,” Jin said, as though she didn’t already know. “What do you suppose it is this time? Another deer? Maybe a mouse?” His tone was wry, but there was an eagerness beneath it he couldn’t quite hide. It was his duty to oversee their army, but here that left him with little to do. A threat at the gates would give him purpose, at least.

“We should go in person,” Jin continued. “Why waste Vrea’s energy with a spirit projection? Let’s just saddle up some elk—”

“It’s nighttime,” Shen said shortly.

“—and grab some lanterns,” Jin added, undeterred.

“Last time I let you patrol the border in person, you went Below and were seen!” Shen snapped.

Jin’s smile faltered. “That was an accident, I told you.”

“Seventeen years we’ve kept ourselves hidden, and you spoil it all on a lark.” Shen was always grumpiest at night; Vrea would never say it to his face but she found it endearing. A rare lingering human quality in their stoic elder brother. “You’d better hope this disturbance tonight doesn’t have anything to do with your little ‘accident.’”

“I don’t hope for anything anymore,” Jin shot back.

Maybe because he’d been so young when they left, it sometimes seemed Jin was still one foot in that place. Or perhaps it wasn’t a foot Vrea was thinking of—something more vital, a mind, a heart.

“Let’s go, then,” Shen said as Vrea took her seat. “Whatever is at the gate, I’d like to deal with it before morning.”

“Yes, let’s not keep those deer waiting,” Jin quipped, but his good humor was worn thin. He sat forward, brow creasing in concentration. A sweet, hapless simulacrum of his older brother.

Vrea held out her hands. The men took them. Shen’s grasp was perfunctory, Jin’s warm and affectionate, like that of a trusting child.

The priestess closed her eyes to the violet-black flames. Then she willed the three of them out and away.

They lifted from their bodies, light as a cool summer wind in the Below. When she opened her eyes again they stood, the three of them, at the edge of the lake. It was lit silver-pale by a young moon and permanently fringed with dense gray fog—a by-product of the high concentration of feral magic around the gate.

Tonight though, the fog was thicker than usual, swirling on the wind like it were agitated. Whatever was at the gate, it may not just be deer, after all. Something was off. The spirits were riled.

“Is everyone accounted for?” she asked. Her brothers stood on either side, translucent but stable. They clung to her hands carefully—releasing their grip would break the projection, pulling them back into the sanctum where their bodies rested in wait.

“Come on,” Shen said. “We’re not far.”

They drifted through the fog. They could scarcely see arm’s distance before them, and so hugged the edge of the lake to keep their bearings. An unnecessary precaution; as they neared, Vrea could feel the gate thrumming, calling her forth.

Still, it would have been easy enough for the naked eye to miss. The fog thinned out and there it was: just an odd blur, like haze off rocks on a hot day. An aberration in the air, shiny as new scar tissue, in the shape of a door. There were no obvious landmarks, no signifiers, no adornments. That would have gone against their purposes.

Vrea turned toward the gate and whispered under her breath, stripping away the protective spells—just enough to peer through from their side. As she tugged free another layer, she felt Jin shift at her side, itching to reach for his sword. She needn’t remind him of the obvious: they weren’t there, not truly. Whatever waited for them at the gate couldn’t hurt them, would not even be able to see them. But she could understand wanting the familiar security of holding a weapon.

A final word off her tongue and another layer of magic dispersed.

The gate opened out onto the opposite side of the lake in the Below. Through the haze of the remaining protective spells, the Triarch could see a shore no different from the one upon which they stood: water-slicked rocks, cold gray water, swathed in the pale eerie fog of feral magic.

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