Foster left me alone with Sebastian, but he made me promise I wouldn’t make any sounds when Cleon was brought down, dragged by passive, uncaring soldiers . Of course I agreed, though I had no intention of actually keeping to my word.
When we were alone, Sebastian and I did no talking. Nothing was said. Instead, I crept up slowly, trying my best not to spook him, and sat beside him to keep him company.
At first he was suspicious, his bright, molten eyes peering out at me from under his midnight bangs, never leaving my face. After half an hour or so, he became uninterested and laid down, curled into a ball, and before I knew it his familiar snores filled the confined area of his cell, bouncing off the stone walls and echoing around me.
In sleep, he looked like my old Sebastian, his face looked calmer, more at peace, and I had to fight the urge to stroke his face - to feel his safe and imperfection free skin. My eyes automatically sought out the small moon tattoo under his eye, and sooner rather than later tears began falling silently to the floor.
I did that. No matter what anyone said, I didn’t think I’d ever forgive myself for what I’d done to the Count of Night. If it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t be here. I should’ve known not to get so attached - to let us both fall so hard. I should’ve been the strong one and said no.
“I’ll make it up to you,” I whispered in the darkness, my words falling on deaf ears. “I’ll get you your memories back. I promise.”
He didn’t answer of course, and I didn’t need him to. I felt a strange feeling of purpose, and I was going to do right by Sebastian from now on.
I waited until the soldiers brought Cleon down, just like Foster said they would. Just hearing her grunting and cursing brought my blood to a boil. Her scales were slick with dark blue blood, looking almost like oil on her body. There was no way I was going to let them behead her. If I had to, I’d use my powers and murder them all, and still be able to sleep tonight.
Luckily for the unsuspecting soldiers, they didn’t go through with the beheading. Instead they just tossed a beaten and bloody Cleon into a cell while I stayed crouched in the corner of Sebastian’s cell.
When the last of the soldiers filed out of the room, I rushed over a sleeping Sebastian and kissed his exposed temple. He flinched, but didn’t wake.
Tiptoeing, I made my way to the door, cringing when it squeaked as I opened it.
My feet were bare, making minimal sound as I crept towards Cleon’s cell. When I reached it, however, her back was hunched and facing me.
“I’ll never tell you,” she hissed. “You’ll have to kill me first.”
I had to smile at her loyalty. So feisty. “Now why in the world would I kill you? It would solve nothing.”
At the sound of my voice, Cleon spun, her long spiny tail swishing behind her. Her slitted yellow eyes went round as she spotted me. “You stupid girl! What are you doing here? You’re going to get yourself killed!”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “It’s nice to see you too.”
She bared her teeth in my direction. “This is no times for games, you need to go!”
“I’m not going to leave you.”
She shook her head. “You have to. They went to go get the queen for further questioning! If she see’s you down here, she’ll know that Foster is the mole. You’re jeopardizing everything!”
Soon footsteps sounded, causing my heart to accelerate, but I wasn’t going to let her go through this alone. I was going to die anyway, right? My mother was going to kill me in a few days, so what was the point? I might as well die for something I believed in.
Cleon rolled her eyes, her annoyance reaching its peak. “The one orchestrating her demise. You’ll find out about it in time. When you’re ready - now is not the time.”
The footsteps grew louder, echoing on the walls, and Cleon’s eyes went wide and pleading. “Please, Princess. Go to your witch, help him, and get him out of here. I can take care of myself.” My heart caved hearing her beg. Cleon wasn’t one to do such a thing.
My heart was torn. “I-”
The footsteps were so close - just on the verge of entering the room.
She hissed in my direction “GO!”
I turned around with a half sob - and it almost surprised me. I wasn’t sure when I grew so attached, when that bond actually grew into something I would care about. I dashed into the nearby cell - right next to her own, and sunk into the shadows, hoping nobody would feel the need to peek inside.
When multiple pair of footsteps finally broke into the room, my heart thudded to a stop in my throat.
A familiar voice rung in the air like a summer wind chime. “Stand Cleon, and face me.” Mother.
Shuffling. “Your majesty,” Cleon’s words dripped with sarcasm, hatred, aggression.
There was no beating around the bush - Mother jumped right in. “Who’s the mole, Cleon? Who’s been educating her?”
Cleon’s cackle resonated. “Do you really think I’m going to tell you? Do I look like a fool, Mab?”
Hearing the word Mab made me cringe. Liar. I could practically hear my mother’s - Mab’s teeth grinding. “You will tell me, or I will kill the girl. I know you’ve grown fond of her.”
“Try it. I know you can’t do that. You’ll die, and your line of succession will die along with you.” She laughed again, her voice surprisingly light when she said, “No more puppets to pull the strings on.”
My mother growled, low and deadly. I could feel the vibrations in my bones, and I shivered so violently my teeth started to chatter. Lord, please don’t let her hear me.
“Then there is no use for you anymore. Congratulations, Cleon. You’ve officially wasted a chance of a wonderful life of royalty and riches.”
I heard the squeak of the rusting cell door open, and my blood froze in my veins, and I had to swallow a gasp that threatened to rip past my lips. There was shuffling, followed by Cleon’s ringing howl of laughter.
“I wouldn’t want that life knowing I’d murdered innocent girls.” And then, something totally out of context,
“Blood is thicker than water,”
“What are you doing?”
" - iron is heavier than steel. The amulet is the key, the queen will keel. Fix her wrongs and make things right, with true love you can cure the blight.”
“What’s done is done.”
Somewhere inside me I found the nerve to actually inch my way to the corner and peek my head around.
My mother was still in her party dress, her silver hair draped around her shoulders like a thick, metallic curtain. Her face was twisted into a sneer, her perfect white teeth gleaming in the dim firelight. “Shut up!” she shrieked, bringing her open palm across Cleon’s black cheek. There was a crack, followed a thump as Cleon fell backwards, her claw-tipped hand coming up to cup her cheek. The force actually split it open, and dark blue blood began welling and seeping through Cleon’s fingers, dripping onto the floor.
Both queen and servant glared at each other, seething, sizing each other up, and my emotions were a whirlwind inside my chest.
I watched as my mother bent her knees to stare into Cleon’s flaming eyes, her lips pursed into a chilling amused expression, all signs of anger erased from her features. “She’s here, isn’t she?”
Cleon was a statue, rock solid. She said nothing.
Mother turned to the soldiers of the Aubrey Army that stood behind her.
“She’s in one of the cells. Find her and bring her to me.”
Could things can any worse? At this point, all I wanted to do was become invisible, to shrink into the nothingness around me.
The soldiers nodded, their silver helmets winking in the candlelight. A few even palmed their icy spears.
Luckily enough, they didn’t start from my cell, instead they worked their way from the back, up.
The screeching of the cell doors was undeniably loud, and with every slam of a door being shut, my doom drew nearer.
I was going to die tonight. My mother was going to find me, kill me, and take my body.
But then something happened, just as a single soldier began advancing on the cell I was hiding in.
From upstairs, the undeniable chill of blood curdling screams blew through the room like a harsh winter breeze, causing goosebumps to rise all along my flesh, and the small hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end.
The Aubrey soldiers jumped, their eyes fastened on their queen, waiting for instructions. Mab rolled her eyes, her lips curling into a glimpse like sneer. “For the gods, does nothing go to plan?” she mumbled to herself, and I saw Cleon smile.
My heart was roaring in my ears, so loud I feared someone would hear it. Obviously they didn’t, because it wasn’t long before my mother commanded her soldiers to climb the steps and see what was with her guests, and that she’d ‘finish up down here’. They did as they were told, taking no time to oblige her.
When the last of the elven knights left, Mab bent at the knees, her face inches from Cleon’s. “I was going to give you everything, and you threw it away for your human parasite.”
The servant that I’d undoubtedly grown a bond with swallowed hard. This was hard for her. I watched a muscle feather in her jaw.
“Love conquers all, Sister,” Cleon spit back, and a wave of confusion came crashing down. Sister?
Oh my god. My mother had given Cleon saucers as a gift... Cleon said she always did my mother’s hair. They were sisters.
Mab’s eyes grew sad, as if what she was about to do was going to cause her pain. In a quick movement, too fast for my eyes to follow, Mab pulled out a shiny silver dagger hidden in the folds of her gown. She used the arc of her arm to quickly slash it across Cleon’s throat in a fine spray of cobalt.
I choked on a scream, my hand coming up to cup my lips to block it from coming out. Thankfully the only sound I made was a slight squeak, quiet enough that the queen must not’ve heard it.
Cleon crumpled, her eyes going wide with shock. Blood poured from her wound, gushing to the floor. I tried not to gag when she fell forward, her face smacking the cold stone floor.
Mab kneeled down, careful not to let her gown get tainted by the blood pooling at her feet. If I wasn’t mistaken, I could have sworn I saw a tear leak from her eye. “Moge de Goden u toegang verlenen in Hemel.”
She leaned forward and lightly dragged her fingers over Cleon’s eyes, closing her lids before bending down further to kiss each one.
I would’ve thought it beautiful, almost nobel, if I hadn’t seen the barbaric way Cleon was murdered.
Dark emotions swirled inside my chest like a wild hurricane, and I wanted nothing more than to unleash all the anger I was feeling on my mother. She lied to me, killed one of my closest friends - if Cleon was even considered that - and was actually planning on stealing my future away from me and use my body like a damn puppet.
A growl rumbled in my chest, more animal like than human, and I knew without a doubt that some of my faerie qualities were taking control, and at this point, I really didn’t care.
My mother froze, turning slowly to glare into the darkness in which I was hiding. Her eyes narrowed, and she took a step forward.
Frantic footsteps sounded, and it wasn’t long before an Aubrey Knight stood at the foot of the stairs, his helmet off and his hair disheveled. It occurred to me that this was the first time I actually saw one of Foster’s soldiers without their helmet on, it surprised me how ordinary he looked. He resembled any other High Fae at winter court - with white hair, curel, sharp features and bright eyes. “Your majesty! Come quick! Witches!”
I watched my mother’s face change to one of suspicion to one of utter rage. She snarled, turning on her heels before stalking up the stairs with the frantic knight hot on her heels.
I waited for a few quiet moments, making sure they weren’t coming back before I climbed out of the dark corner of my cell, my back aching from being pressed against the hard stone. With heels in hand, I turned.
My eyes traveled to the bloody scene at the front of the room, and my stomach did a complete three-sixty inside me. I took a few tentative steps forward before the first tear slid from my eye, falling to the floor and splashing on my bare feet.
I crouched beside her, not caring whether or not I got blood or gore on my gown, though I knew I would probably regret it later.
She looked peaceful in death, her permanent scowl relaxed into an expression of innocence. She could’ve been sleeping.
I reached out with a shaky hand, stroking her scaly cheek. I pulled back when I realized it was slick with dark, azure blood.
“I’ll make sure she pays, Cleon. I promise.” I was making a lot of promises tonight, and I knew they would be hard to keep, but at this point in time, I couldn’t care less. I would keep them, even if it meant letting myself die in the process.
Mab had taken so much from me - so much from others. She was thousands of years old, living inside another’s body every time she saw fit. How many young queens had faced the same fate, unable to stop the cruelness?
But Foster was right, there was something different about me. I was part human. I knew about her damned plot, and unlike the others, I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
I finally emerged from the dungeon when the chaos above couldn’t be ignored anymore. The screams of fae and witches alike flooded my ears, bringing back haunting memories of a child’s room, golden eyes, and death.
I swallowed my resolve. I needed to find Foster - he was the only one I was worried about at this point.
It wasn’t hard. All I had to do was follow the path of crimson and corpses until I saw him.
He stood in a circle of familiar black uniforms, his white suit splattered in red. Watching him, he could’ve been dancing, his body moving in fluid curves and twists. But then I saw his frosted blade capped in red, the sneer in his lips and the cruelty in his crystal eyes. They kept throwing themselves at him, the witches that is, and no matter what weapon or spell they threw at him, he seemed to deflect it with ease. That is, until I saw a golden hair girl with sapphire eyes approach from the side.
Danna looked stunning with her long honey hair pulled into a braid that hung like a rope down her spine, and her beautiful features twisted into a fierce mask. “Where is he?” she screamed, just as a huge gust of wind tore through the corridor, blowing Foster off balance.
The elven knight teetered on his heels, trying to regain his balance as the Count of Air stormed through the masses, her eyes aglow with blue fire.
This was all too familiar, but I couldn’t let him die. Not my Foster.
I wasn’t sure when he became my Foster, just like I wasn’t sure when the feeling I felt for Cleon had become more than professional, but what was done was done. There was no denying it, Foster was mine.
With a battle cry I lunged into the fray of battle, pulling my power from within. My hands radiated a chilling blue, and I ducked and dodged witch’s fatal blows aimed for my neck, back, chest. I had to get to Foster.
“Where is he?” Danna continued to scream, and I had no doubt that it was about Sebastian. But Sebastian could wait.
One of the witches that Foster had disarmed a moment before got to his feet, his face a red smear of blood, what remained of his lips curling into a vengeful sneer. “Fucking faeries,” he snarled as he reached down. He pulled a bronze dagger from one of the fallen, twisting it within his palm and it twinkled at me.
I ran faster, harder. Witches were surrounding him, and he could barely keep his footing while they continued to hack and lunge, each one getting closer and closer to hitting their mark.
I could barely hear the wind - the only audible sound was the raging roar of my heart, flooding my ears. But then a blade came arching down, angled towards my chest. I ducked, but my momentum made me continue onward, tumbling into other warm bodies and bloody corpses. I landed on my stomach, crimson smeared down the side of my face.
“Eve Scotts.” I hadn’t heard that name in so long, it took me a moment to realize someone was speaking to me.
I craned my neck to get a better view, only to see a boy with light eyes and sandy brown hair. Thought I knew his hair would lighten in the summer, because I spent my entire life growing up with him, and he was like a brother to me.
The boy, no the man, glared at me, his eyes not so familiar anymore. Instead, they were hard, cold, and full of an anger and determination that I couldn’t even comprehend. “It’s you,” he whispered.
I pulled myself to my feet, smoothing out my gown for what it was worth. “It’s me.”
His mouth was pressed into a thin, white line. “You left us,” he gritted out. He might as well have taken the blade in his palm and shoved it in my gut.
“Jack... I didn’t -”
“Lucas is dead.”
I fell silent.
“He caught the flu, and I couldn’t find the things I needed to make medicine for him.”
Lucas and Jack were as close as any of us - but the boys might as well have been real brothers. They shared a bond that I could never understand, and if I was being honest, I was quite jealous of. No matter where one went, the other followed. They shared a bed - Lucas got the top while Jack got the bottom bunk. They shared food, water, medicine, even clothes. And now Lucas was dead - and I could tell by the hardness in Lucas’s eyes... he blamed me.
“Jack, I’m so sorry.” I could barely hear my own words.
“You don’t have a right to be sorry,” he snapped back, his knuckles turning white as he gripped his blade tighter. “You left us, and what? For the faeries, seriously?”
“You don’t know what happened!”
He nodded, his words clipped as he spoke. “You’re right. I don’t. But neither do you.” He pointed his sword at me, the tip of his blade inches from my nose. “Lucy died,” he announced, and his face was mirroring what I was feeling. My little Lulu - with her long black hair and beautifully tanned skin - dead.
I choked. “How?”
“I couldn’t feed her. She starved.”
I was losing too much, everything was caving in. Cleon, Sebastian’s memories, Lucas, Lucy... All gone.
“But then we found out you were actually hiding out in the Academy, taking lessons to become a witch. But by the looks of it, it didn’t go too well, did it?”
Acid burned a path up my throat.
“But when you were captured, for some strange reason Sage Akan sent out a code red. Do you know what that means, Eve?”
I couldn’t move. I continued to kneel, motionless.
“It means that I had to fight. I had to enlist, or they’d have my head. The army has doubled, if not tripled now. Men, woman, anyone who can pick up a gun. And even children are now working in the kitchen, the laundry rooms.”
Just then I heard a scream, and I tore my gaze away from Jack, only to see Foster on the ground, his sword by his side, and a bronze dagger in his side, slid between his ribs.
“We had a deal!” He yelled at nobody in particular, dark blood welling between his hands as he cupped his wound. “We had a bloody deal!”
“Foster!” His name ripped from my throat, into the open air. For the first time, his fractured eyes met mine, and something flickered over his face. I watched his lips move, saying my name.
But then a crashing wave of agony split open my skull, and I toppled backward. I landed on my back, the ceiling of the corridor swimming in my vision. A shadow popped into view, and I really had to strain my eyes to bring the outline into focus. It was Jack, the hilt of his sword bloody as he gazed down upon me with angry eyes.
The little twit hit me!
Everything went fuzzy around the edges and I strained to cling to consciousness. Foster. But my grip was failing. I was slowly letting go, and there was nothing I could do about it.
All I heard was screaming, so much screaming. “Neva!”
“Where is he!?”
Jack swam into view again - I must’ve opened my eyes. “You’re coming home, with me, Eve.”
“We failed with the first wave, but I think the Sages will be very excited to know that their second invasion went nicely.” Jack fumbled with a black box on his belt, one with a button and a tiny speaker built in. I hadn’t seen such technology before.
He pressed the button and spoke into the small black box. “I’ve got the Princess. Far corridor in the left wing of the castle. Come quickly, there are many wounded.”
A fuzzy response came back, but I wasn’t paying much attention.
I was going back home.
As much as I missed the kids, the Village, and even the Academy a little, it wasn’t my home. I couldn’t go back. I would never fit in. My place was here, ruling over the Winter Court with Foster by my side. I was suppose to free my people, to be a better queen.
But I couldn’t fight the darkness anymore. It was sucking at me, pulling me under its crushing waves of warmth and bliss. It was tempting, and I couldn’t hold out any longer. The last thing I saw before the world went black, was Foster’s face in a distant memory. His eyes, particularly, and the way they shined. Beautiful eyes.
My familiar face.