Wicked Winter

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Chapter 20

Music flowed through the room, the melody from the Throne room heard even here.

I stared at Foster’s open palm, my heart dead silent in my chest. It felt raw, heavy - like a concrete stone.

I gulped and outstretched my arms, opening my palm. Foster slid the blade into it. The metal was icy against my skin, but I didn’t mind. I felt numb, gutted, empty. There was only one way Foster could’ve gotten this sword.

Suddenly I couldn’t breath. My throat felt too warm and too tight. Heat prickled the back of my eyes, and it wasn’t long before my vision went fuzzy. Reality blurred, melting away, and suddenly I was back at the training ground, Sebastian in front of me.

“We’re going to start magic training. It’s time you start learning how to use your ice magic. You know, considering Akan turned back on his plan to meet you every Friday.”

My body froze. “What?”

“Ice magic,” he repeated, spitting on the cool metal and then buffing it away with his sleeve. The tip of his nose was red from the bitter cold. “I can’t use it, but I can teach you how to harness your power.”

“I can’t,” I blurted. “I can’t.”

He then looked up from his sword to pin me in a questioning glare, his eyes narrowing. “Why not?”

I shook my head, my galloping heartbeat roaring in my ears. “I just can’t.” I stood up then, not even bothering to brush snow from my pants.

He suddenly through the weapon on the ground, the metal sinking into the muddy snow with a splat. “God dammit Eve!” he snapped, and I jumped. “Why can’t you see that I’m trying? I’m trying to give you space, trying to win you back, trying to get you to understand that I love you.”

I love you.

“Were you the one to do it?” I whispered, my soft, strained words barely audible over the wind.

Sebastian came for me. He was here when the witches invaded; that was the only explanation for this.

Foster’s brows knitted together as he studied my face. His eyes followed the tear that slid from my eye. Realization lit up he features like a beacon.

“He’s not dead, Nev.”

I ignored the nickname and stared at him blankly, gripping the blade tightly, holding it to my chest. “What?”

“He was the one that lead the witches invasion on us weeks ago. He came for you.”

“Then how did you get this?” I snapped, holding out my wakizashi. My eyes traveled down the engravings on the blade, to the intricate designs of ice and ivy etched in the shiny metal. I squeezed the leather hilt so tight that my knuckles turned white.

“I had to take his weapons from him. Do you really think your mother would allow a witch to stay armed down in the dungeon?”

The dungeon!

My heavy heart suddenly didn’t feel so heavy anymore. In fact, it began racing so loudly I could hear it in my ears, a strange shock of electricity jolting through my body. “He’s here? In the castle?”

Foster cast his eyes downward.

“Tell me!”

He finally met my eyes, his face an unreadable mask. “Yes.”

My whole body felt as if it was vibrating. “What are you waiting for? Take me to him!”

Foster’s eye suddenly became pleading. “Nev, there’s something you need to know first before I take you -”

I cut him off, a sharp burst of anger tearing through my chest. “No, take me there now!”

Foster nodded, his face solemn. “As you wish, your majesty.”

It was somewhat of a slap in the face, but I ignored the sting.

I followed him out of my room and down the steps. With a wave of Foster’s hand, a gust of cold wind blew through the corridor, carrying small flakes along with it, and blew out the lights lining the walls.

“Harder to see us,” he murmured when I gave him a puzzled look. I nodded in agreement, holding my heels in one hand and my curved sword in the other.

It was just as I remembered it - not bent nor broken, though I was almost positive I heard the tip break when I dropped it on the frozen ground before. Unless Sebastian fixed it.

Sebastian. I was actually going to see him again. But my excitement was suddenly doused by a black, all consuming wave of guilt that threatened to pull me under and drown me.

I broke his heart, and murdered his sister in cold blood. Not necessarily cold blood - she was going to kill Foster! - but still. He didn’t know about his sister, of course, but how could I go to him and ignore the knife that was shredding my heart to ribbons?

We were phantoms in the night, invisible in the shadows. The nerve-numbing cocktail of dread and excitement brought my powers to life, and I had to shove my hands in my arm pits to conceal their icy blue glow.

The dungeon, much to my surprise, was actually a giant hole that went deep into the core of the mountain. The only way down was a steep flight of steps that were slippery with ice, and almost too narrow to squeeze down.

We traveled single file until I almost got suspicious of Foster. The stairs continued to go farther and farther and farther until they opened into a large dome of a room with steel, rusted cages lined along the walls.

There was a long, never-ending walkway straight ahead, lined with more pens to keep living prisoners. It occurred to me that if Mother wanted, she could probably capture all the witches living in the Bairfell Palace, the camp, and the academy and hold them all under her castle, right here.

The smell of decay and moisture hit my nose, making me snort, but somehow Foster ignored it. I assumed his faerie senses were even stronger than my own, so how he acted so detached was a mystery to me.

Foster led me down the dark path until there was almost no light to see, before he stopped and faced what looked like an empty jail cell. But the more I strained my eyes, I realized there was a lump on the floor, and my heart leapt into my throat. I gasped, my hands coming up to cover my mouth.

I swear I saw Foster flinch. He gave a wave of his hand, and the clinking of tumblers sounded through the air. The door was unlocked.

The elf that was soon to be my husband ushered me forward, and I was amazed that he let me go inside. Wasn’t he scared that Sebastian might hurt me, hold me hostage until they let him loose?

Of course I didn’t think that, but it was odd that Foster almost pushed me towards the door, his eyes cast downward.

With shaky legs, I shuffled towards the cage, my heart doing its best to hammer its way through my ribs as I gripped the rusted handle in the sweaty meat of my palm.

I actually used the glow of my hands to see while I made it to the center of the pen where the lump sat, unmoving.

As I got closer, I saw two familiar arms, whiter than I remembered and not nearly as large - a hunched back with ribs protruding, and long, midnight hair.

“Sebastian?” I reached for him with a shaky arm.

I heard Foster’s questioning steps as he stepped forward. I could feel his steady presence. My familiar face.

At my touch, he jump with a yelp, his golden eyes wild with fear and it took my breath away. “Get away!” He scurried to the corner of his cell. He shook, his now ghostly white skin stretched over his skeleton like a tightly pulled sheet. I could see his bones.

My heart broke.

This wasn’t my Sebastian. This was only a fraction of the man I knew. This man was weaker, more frail with a fragile mind.

What happened to him?

But then it hit me. It hit me so hard I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see through the scolding hot wave of anger that wracked my body. My muscles twitched, my fingers curled into glowing fists. Before I knew it my body was twisting, my clenched hand arched and coming down fast, right at Foster’s polished cheek.

It made contact with a crack, and I screamed at him. “What did you do to him? How could you do this to him? How could you not tell me?”

I changed tactics and pummeled his chest, and Foster made no advance to stop me. Instead, he just stared at me with sad, fractured eyes made out of crystal.

When I was certain that my knuckles were black and blue, I stopped, my chest heaving as I tried to pull in a breath. I couldn’t - the sobs blocked them, clogging my airways and ripping past my lips. “How could you?” I wailed, my knees caving.

I crumpled to the floor, glancing over at Sebastian curled in the corner of his cell, his fierce, molten eyes never leaving my face.

Something was off about his eyes - they were empty, no recognition whatsoever.

“Neva, I’m so sorry. When your mother found out who he was she thought she could use him against you...” was all Foster said, kneeling down beside me. I wanted to be angry at him, to hate him for what he did to Sebastian, but I couldn’t. The agonizing pain in his eyes was too real, too genuine to turn down.

He felt bad - terrible for what happened to Sebastian.

But that didn’t stop the boiling anger that sizzled in my veins. Oh no, if anything it only turned it to someone else. Someone that had access down here, who knew who he was and how much he meant to me and twisted it.

My mother.

I swallowed hard, my throat raw. “What did she do to him?” The witch in the corner wasn’t my Sebastian.

Foster sighed. “Witches don’t have magic. They memorize spells and how to pull it from the Mother Earth.” He paused a beat, but I already knew before he said it. I knew what my mother did. “She took his memories.”

There it was.

Sebastian gazed at us with his mesmerizing golden eyes, his ebony bangs scattered and plastered to his damp forehead. He didn’t pulse power. I actually detected nothing between us, simply because it wasn’t there. The man sitting across from me was a shell of the witch that I loved.

I sat in the center of his cell for many long minutes, the cold from the stone below us leaking up into my dress and surrounding me.

For the first time in my life, the cold actually made me shiver.

“I had to show you.” Foster’s voice was soft. “I couldn’t keep it from you, not when the wedding is only in a few days.”

My spine straightened. “A few days? Maeve hasn’t even told me about it.”

Foster turned away from me, his shoulders hunched. “It’s actually been moved up. She knows you know, and she was scared you might try to bolt.”

A had a bad taste in my mouth. “How does she knows?” I whispered.

His white lashes lifted as he met my heated gaze. “She had suspicions of Cleon, and she went into your room. She found one of Cleon’s saucers...”

“How did she know it was Cleon’s?” It felt as if someone had a knife in my gut, and Foster’s words were the hand twisting the hilt, gutting me alive.

“Your mother gave it to her as a gift, many, many years ago.”

“Oh my God.”

“Cleon’s a dead woman walking. A fraction of my troops are dragging her down here as we speak.” His voice cracked. “They’re going to behead her.”

“But why?” I practically shouted. “What’s so bad about me knowing about the damn wedding?”

“There’s a ritual she’s getting ready for!” he snapped back. He began pacing the room, his white suit a huge contrast against all the rust and decay. “Your mother isn’t just your mother, Neva.”

“What?”

“Bloody hell!” With a wail he turned and crashed his fist into the rock wall of the cell. Rock splintered away, and my mouth went dry. “Her name is Mab, and she ruled over the Winter Court many, many millennia ago. When the ruling had taken place, the one where the monarchs will die when their offspring reach maturity, she captured my father in hope he could help her find a way out of it - a loophole.”

“You father was a king, how would he know?”

Foster shook his head, desperately wanting me to understand. “No, Nev, he wasn’t. He was a very, very smart elf that dabbled with stronger magic than anyone else could even image.” He paced faster, and his boots slapped the stone in sync with my racing heart.

“The amulet around your mother’s neck? It’s not just a piece of jewelry.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said. “How is that Mab? What happened to my mother?”

He gave an exasperated sigh, raking his hands through his hair. “By the Gods! How do I explain this?” he asked to the ceiling above. When it looked like he finally came to the conclusion, he looked me straight in the eyes and turned my world upside down.

“The amulet my father made your mother allowed her to steal the souls of her daughters, trap them inside the amulet, and she then steals her daughter’s body. She body jumps, so when her old body is ready to die, she can continue to live.”

“But-”

He cut me off, continuing on. “I was there, Neva. I was there, and witnessed her practically murder her daughters one after another. She murdered my father to keep him quiet! For some reason that I’m still not sure of, she kept me here, under her protection and practically raised me. I watched as she stole the bodies of many young queens, and her subjects had no idea. So when I stood up to her and threatened to tell everyone...” Foster choked on his words, and for the first time I actually witnessed a tear slide down his cheek.

“Foster...” I choked.

“She froze my little brother,” he whispered, and I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around him. His face scrunched, as if the memory actually caused him physical pain. “She didn’t lie to you when she said my mother died in childbirth. It just wasn’t with me. Alston was born five decades after me, and when Mama died I... It was my job to take care of him. Father was too interested in his work.”

“I’m so sorry.” I didn’t know what to say or how to console him.

“I still have a chance of saving him,” he whispered. “He’s not dead - just frozen.”

“How?”

Finally he looked at me, and the torture in his eyes made me want to twine my fingers in my hair and rip it from my scalp. “As mockery, your mother made me a promise, and a faerie’s word is law - it cannot be broken. She said she would give the girls a chance at a life before she ripped it away. ‘A chance at love’.” He made quotes in the air with his fingers. “She said she’d let them marry-” I couldn’t breath “-and I was the one that had to marry them, only to have her rip their soul from their body that very same night.”

I was so distant, somewhere so far away that when I spoke, I didn’t even sound like myself. “So in a few days, my soul is going to be trapped in that damn amulet and she’s going to be walking around in my body like a puppet?”

Foster came to me, kneeled in front of me and cupped my hands in his own. “No, Neva, I won’t let that happen. I’ve been a puppet for too long, and I won’t let her control me anymore. As much as I love Alston, I need to do what’s right, and I can’t do wrong by you.”

“You’ll help me?”

“Or die trying.”

More tears poured from my eyes. Finally, after all this time it made sense - why she treated me the way she did, why her eyes were so old and all the power I felt radiating from her.

She was my mother, but she had no intention on actually acting like it.

She was going to kill me.

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