The Never King: Chapter 6 - Read Free Books Online (2023)

Beyond my tomb,I can feel the sun sinking toward the horizon line, the shadows growing long.

But it’s dark in here.

And when you wake to total darkness, it’s impossible not to feel buried.

Some nights I wake and wonder if I’m in hell.

If I’m already fucking dead, entombed in the island’s dirt.

I toss the sheets back and set my feet to the stone floor and it’s the chill that brings me back, tells me that I’m still in my body.

I have flesh and bones, but still no fucking shadow.

How much longer?

How much longer do I have?

I flick on the bedside lamp and golden light fills the room. Immediately my eyes burn.

Fuck, I feel like hell.

I find my pants in the corner, the belt still strung through the loops. I pull them on, toss on a shirt and roll up the sleeves.

My sword is where it always is, hanging on the hook by my bed.

When the sun can kill you and pirates are hunting you and your magic is fucking waning, all you have left are blades.

I leave off the sword but go heavy on the knives.

One each goes in my boot. A few more hidden beneath my pant legs. Another in a sheath on my forearm.

Two floors above me, I hear Bash tell the Darling to sit.

She sits.

If she’s a good girl, she’ll always do what we tell her.

And I can be rather convincing.

The lock on my outer door clanks open. Vane’s the only one with a key. His footsteps draw near. He doesn’t bother knocking because Vane is a self-entitled prick like that.

Of course, he has his shadow. He has his magic and all of the perks that come with it.

“Good,” he says when he comes in. “You’re up.”

I sit back down on the edge of the bed and run my hands through my hair. I need a drink.

“You don’t look well,” he adds.

I glance up at him. He’s leaning against my dresser looking like he was carved from war.

I’m still not sure how I convinced him to join me and the Lost Boys but I’m glad I did. I need him by my side. Now more than ever.

“That trip took a lot out of me,” I admit.

“I told you I’d go fetch her.”

I snort. “And have her come back in two pieces?”

He runs his tongue along the inside of his bottom lip but doesn’t argue with me.

I get up as the last drop of sunlight disappears. I can feel it in my veins. Like a tether untied.

I can finally breathe.

“How is she?” I ask.

Vane’s gaze darkens. “Prettier than the last.”

“Not what I asked.”

He sighs. “Bash made her pancakes. Kas was nice to her. She’s calm for now. Already asking too many questions. Cherry gave her too many answers.”

“Fucking Cherry.”

“She’s a liability. Why the fuck do we keep her around?”

“Because she’s collateral and the kind of loyal we need. That’s why.”

“Shewasloyal when the twins were fucking her. Now she’s desperate.”

“She’s desperate for you,” I remind him and disappear into the bathroom. “The twins were just a distraction. She wants you. So fuck her and keep her loyal.”

I can hear him grumbling in the other room.

At the sink, I splash cold water on my face, try to drive the ache from my muscles.

I am ancient.

I shouldn’t ache.

I’m running out of time.

I can feel the island slipping from my grip.

In the mirror, I don’t recognize my reflection. I am a king who has no throne.

Fucking Darlings. Fucking Tink.

The rage simmers in my gut. I grit my teeth, close my eyes, summon a breath.

This one will be the one.

She fucking has to be.

Hands still damp, I rake my fingers through my hair. The cool water feels good on my scalp, helps soothe some of the pounding behind my eyes.

Out in the room, Vane is still brooding.

“What?” I say. “Spit it out.”

“Just let me kill Cherry. Let me send a message.”



“When’s the last time you chased someone, anyway? I can feel your shadow simmering. You got energy that needs to be spent. Do it before you take it out on the Darling. Do it for me.”

He sighs again. “Fine. Fuck.”

I give him a hard pat on the back. “Now let’s go get a drink.”

Our footsteps echo in the underground tower as we wind up the wrought iron stairwell. When we emerge on the main floor of the treehouse, I take in a deep breath of the salty sea air.

In the distance, gulls cry as they fight over scraps.

I can’t see the Darling yet, but I can feel her.

We are a house of cold, hard edges.

She’s already made it feel warmer and I’ve barely known soft or warm in my life.

The Lost Boys like to joke that I ran away from my mother the moment I was born.

But if I am honest about it, I think the island birthed me. I have no memories before I woke up here shrouded in magic.

Down the hall, Kas laughs at something and Bash snorts.

I smell rum on the air, which means the twins are already drinking. Little fuckers are the little brothers I never wanted or needed.

Vane and I go up the grand staircase and come in on the loft. Some of the wild parakeets are perched on the branches of the Never Tree, their soft warbles indicating they’re falling asleep.

I miss the sound of their chirping.

I miss a lot of things about the daylight.

When I step through the doorway, the Darling’s eyes track me.

She can’t help it.

No one can.

Even a king without a throne demands attention.

“He has risen,” Bash says.

I glare at him as I go to the bar. We have hundreds of bottles of liquor that are lined up on the shelf in front of a wall of mirrors patinaed with age and cracked by carelessness.

As I reach for my favorite bottle, I look up in the mirror and catch the Darling staring at me in the reflection.

Blood rushes to her cheeks and she quickly looks away.

I pour a shot of rum then add a few ice cubes to the glass and finally turn to the room, to her.

She still won’t look at me.

I take a swig, let the alcohol roll around on my tongue before swallowing it back, let the burn settle in. It reminds me that I’m alive.

Aren’t I?

I snap my fingers at Bash and he brings me the steel cigarette case, flips it open for me so I can pluck one out. I pull the lighter from my pants pocket, flick the wheel and light the end of the cigarette.

The smoke burns differently than the liquor, but it burns just the same.

I am alive.

I am alive.

The Darling sits on the leather sectional in the very center. The large couch makes her look small. Her bones are sharp against her sweater.

She’ll pay a cost for a debt she knows nothing about.

I do feel sorry for her, the little Darling girl. But not sorry enough.

I take a hit from the cigarette, let the smoke leak out before sucking it back in with a deep inhale.

This catches her eye.

She swallows hard, then zeros in on the blade strapped to my arm.

I can hear the rapid beat of her heart, but I don’t think she’s scared so much as intrigued. Time to teach her the first lesson.

“Get up,” I tell her.

She looks to Kas.

“He can’t help you,” I say. “Get up, Darling.”

She rises. She has no shoes on and the bones of her feet stick out from her flesh like the spines of a lion fish.

What did Merry do to her?

The rage comes back, but this time it’s kindled by something else.

Something I don’t like.

“Vane,” I say and he falls in step beside me. “Darling. Follow us.”

“Don’t run,” Bash warns her. His tone is light, but the warning is serious. If she knows what’s good for her, she’ll heed it.

We go out through the bank of doors that leads to the balcony where stairs wind down to the patio. There’s a fire burning in the stone pit and Lost Boys hanging around, drinking and cavorting with some of the girls from town. One of them is quietly strumming on a guitar.

When they see us coming, the guitar lets out a twang, then goes quiet as they all rise and bow their heads as we pass.

The Darling’s pace falters.

“Keep up,” Vane warns her and gives her a shove.

She walks.

I take one last hit from the cigarette, then flick it into a nearby pot. It’s full of rainwater from yesterday’s storm and the ember sizzles.

The patio breaks to hard packed earth where a root-covered path winds through the palm trees and large auris plants. Firecracker flowers and bright hibiscus blooms hang over the path.

The Darling plucks a firecracker from its stem and rolls the petals between her fingers, then smells the oils left behind.

Down the hill, the ocean laps against the shoreline. The gulls have caught a headwind and are hovering in flight, their wings tipped in the silver light of the nearly full moon.

That’s another thing I miss—flying.

We go down to the beach, the white sand squeaking beneath our steps.

The wind is coming out of the north and I swear I can smell the filth of pirates.

“Look around you, Darling,” I say.

She’s caught between me and Vane, her arms folded over her chest.

She looks down the shoreline, south, then north. My territory is the entire south end of the island, from the point of Silver Cove to the craggy outline of Marooner’s Rock. Hook’s territory is on the other side, on the north end of the island, with Tilly’s territory like a pie wedge between us.

“This is Neverland,” I tell the Darling. “This place does not exist in your world.”

She takes in a breath, her shoulders rising before quickly deflating again.

“You can swim for miles in any direction and you’ll get nowhere, especially not home.”

The gulls cry out again, then turn into the wind and head south. The waves pick up as the tide rises.

“There is no escape. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

She drags her tongue over her lips.

Vane goes rigid beside me.

“What am I doing here?” she asks and takes a step forward. “Why do you take the Darlings?”

She’s rail thin, but full of fire.

“How long before I can go home?”

“Is that what you want?” I ask her. “To go home?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Answer the question.”

“I don’t want to be held captive.” Her voice is rising and Vane’s patience is thinning. “I can’t help you with whatever it is you want,” she says and drops her arms at her sides, hands curling into fists. “So you’re wasting your time and…my mother…she needs me.”

“Does she?”


“This one is going to be a handful,” Vane says, his voice rumbling in the back of his throat.

“I can’t help you, so take me home and—” She cuts herself off, her eyes going wide.

The sharp bite of sulfur blooms on my tongue.

“Vane,” I say.

The Darling backpedals, her heart rate spiking.


She turns around and runs.

I grab Vane by the shoulders and give him a shake. Both his eyes are black and the blackness of the shadow is filling his veins, surging around his eyes like a writhing mask.

“You didn’t tell me it was this bad.”

He growls and yanks out of my grip. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine.”

His attention zeroes in on the running Darling. Her feet pound at the sand, her sweater flapping behind her.

“Now I have to go chase her,” I say. “Well done.”

“No need. I’ll chase her.”

I grab him again before he gets away from me and yank him close. “If you catch her, there won’t be anything left. And she is our last fucking chance.”

The shade has turned his black hair white, turned his incisors to fangs.

Vane has never had a handle on his shadow, no matter how much he tries to convince himself, and me, otherwise. He’s got his own demons to hunt.

“Go on,” I tell him again.

He grits his teeth, lets out a long, disappointed growl.

He watches her another second before turning away and as he walks back up the beach, his hair fades to black again.

I’m running out of time, but I think Vane is too.

For fuck’s sake. I don’t have the patience for this.

The Darling is halfway down the beach now, the moonlight painting her in strokes of silver and blue.

I might not be able to fly, but I can still run, and the Darling never stood a chance.

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