The Black Rose Trilogy, Book One: The Curse

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Chapter Six

Queen Annaleasia had been visiting her family in Southern Celemore while Johnathan and Matthias had been questioning Selene. Indeed, she had not heard of what had happened yet in Beaudale nor of the return of the Witch. Annaleasia was a commoner by birth, and was much more prone to believe the legends and stories of the Black Rose Witch

She arrived at the castle later that afternoon. Her mind was racing. There was something she and Johnathan needed to discuss, and it was of the utmost importance. She found him in his study, reading through paperwork. He was trying to clear his mind of the events that had previously taken place. He looked up from his work as she entered.

"Anna," he said lovingly and smiled. He stood and went to greet her. "Welcome home, love."

She met him happily, and he bent his head for a kiss. "It is wonderful to be back Jon." She looked at him, and noticed that something was not quite right. "Is there something going on?" she asked, curious.

Johnathan shook his head, still smiling. "No, of course not, dearest. All is well within the kingdom."

"But is all well with the king?" she raised her eyebrows. "I can tell these sorts of things, Johnathan. There is something wrong, and do not lie to me."

Johnathan sighed, and looked away. He had indeed married well. Annaleasia could read him like a book. "Something has... happened," he started. "Something rather, frightening, and quite, um, terrible."

"Well what is it, dearest?" Annaleasia asked. She wrapped her arms around him, trying to help in any way she could.

Johnathan swallowed before continuing. "Beaudale has been destroyed."

"What?"

"Burned to the ground, every last part. There is only one survivor, a young girl who is currently staying with the maids."

"But Beaudale – how could this have happened?"

Johnathan refused to look at her. Quietly, he spoke. "She has returned."

Annaleasia's eyes widened with shock and fear. "You mean, she?"

"Yes. We do not know where she is currently or what she is planning on doing, but she has returned, and according to Matthias she is more powerful than she has been in years."

"But, for Aritia, what does this mean?"

Johnathan could only shake his head, not knowing what to say. Annaleasia thought again of what she needed to tell him, but could tell this was not the proper time to do so. Later, she resolved. First, we deal with this.

* * *

Though she hated the reason why, Krystel did love what she had created. Her castle had been crafted beautifully. Still, she tried not to become too absorbed in her new surroundings. People she loved had still died, and she was absolute in destroying the thing that had killed them.

Rose had said that the two think and feel the same, but she hadn't heard a word from Rose since she strutted away from the mirror. Perhaps she was giving Krystel the privacy she so desired. She didn't know how long it was going to last, so she decided to make the best of it.

Krystel thought of everything she knew about the Black Soul and the Black Rose Witch. The Black Soul could only inhabit people who had had their hearts broken. It was a soul that was completely black, and was extremely powerful because of it. No one had yet been able to fully resist the Soul, though Krystel believed she might have changed that.

The Soul, and the Witch it created, were the incarnation of evil, Krystel figured. And the only way to get rid of evil is with good. "That's it!" Krystel quietly exclaimed to herself. "Find someone who's soul is pure white. They'll be able to get rid of the Black Soul for good."

"That's an awfully cute theory you've concocted there."

Krystel jumped, startled by the sudden company. She looked around for where Rose could have appeared, before finding her other reflection dimly lit against a window.

"I thought you could only appear in mirrors."

"It's any reflective surface," Rose explained. "Mirrors work the best, but windows are good enough for decent conversation." She smiled. "Now, back to the matter at hand."

Krystel crossed her arms. "You don't think I can do it."

"Not with that thing you just produced," Rose gave a dry laugh. "I thought you would've known: the only people who die with a pure soul are those who die right after birth. You can't find someone like that, not even Seers have purely white souls." Rose straightened. "Besides, black will always take control of a white soul. That's how they work."

"You don't think I can do it," Krystel repeated, a small smirk on her face.

"I know you can't. Now would you just accept that fact and move on? The fact you're trying at all is ridiculous." Rose scoffed. "What exactly is it you're trying to do anyway?"

"I believe I told you that."

"No, beyond just getting rid of me once and for all," she waved the idea off. "Deep down inside you there is something else. There is another reason you are trying so hard to achieve this."

The girls stared at each other, trying to read what the other was thinking. "You want to die, don't you?" Rose finally asked Krystel quietly. Krystel looked away, not answering with words. "That's it. You can't be with him, and now you're stuck with me for the next while, but you want to be dead, with him and his family, and your best friend––"

"Stop it!" Krystel yelled, tears in her eyes.

"Not very fun to be on the other end of things, isn't it?" Rose sneered, her voice full of malice.

Krystel shook her head, causing a few tears to leak out and down her cheeks. Still, she was able to smile. "You're still just like us."

Rose didn't respond. There were several minutes of silence between the two. Krystel's tears dried before anymore fell. Rose seemed to soften just a bit. "My only question, I suppose, would be where do you plan on finding this mythical person?"

Krystel hadn't quite planned that part out fully. She looked around, thinking quickly of something to say. "I don't plan on finding them. I'm going to do what you did. Or Mabella, rather." Krystel flashed that wicked smile. "I'm going to create her."

"And where do you plan to start that? Your body's dead, remember? You can't hold life."

She shrugged, walking off. "Then I'll simply find someone who can."

– – –

Annaleasia told Johnathan after supper. He was shocked, to say the least, but overjoyed. Annaleasia was likewise. But in the back of their minds they knew: this was potentially dangerous, now more than ever with the Witch being back. Johnathan called the royal physician to their room before they retired to bed, just to check on Annaleasia.

"She will be perfectly fine, Highness," he assured the king, "for now at least."

"For now?" Johnathan questioned, a subtle dangerous sound in his voice.

"She will not start showing for another week or so, but once word gets out, all guarantees of safety are off." He bowed respectably, then began walking towards the door. "I will be back every few days to check on the baby's development. Good evening, Majesties." He closed the door behind him, giving the rulers their privacy.

Annaleasia sat in the bed, and Johnathan walked over to her side. "What will we do?" he asked as he knelt down and took her hand.

Annaleasia gave him a sweet smile. "For now, my love, we will be alright. We have a few more weeks at the most, and in that time we can be preparing for the possible outcomes." Her hand went to his cheek and tilted his head up to look at her. "Everything will be alright in the end. We will see."

Johnathan smiled widely at his queen. "Oh Anna, I can hardly wait to meet my new heir."

She lifted an eyebrow at his statement. "And if it is a girl?" she asked, teasingly but with all seriousness.

"Oh, I should hope it is," a new voice said.

The room grew darker. A fast breeze blew out the candles. Johnathan stood and turned, infuriated and worried, Annaleasia slid over behind her husband, looking around his arm. They watched as a cloud of black threads started spinning around and around until they reached the height and size of a person. From the top they started disappearing, revealing someone as they went.

First the rulers saw black hair, then white skin. Next were the blue eyes that burned with they looked into them Next was that same wicked smile. Finally, she stood in front of them.

"The Witch," Annaleasia whispered in fear, clutching Johnathan's arm.

"Congratulations, my lieges," she sneered through her smile. "I am ever so happy for your fortune."

Johnathan tried to look fierce, though inside he was crazed. As if the destruction of Beaudale was bad enough, here she was right in front of them. Every story he had ever disregarded came flying back to his mind. He took a deep breath, and acted like his father would. "What do you mean, our fortune? What do you want?"

"Hmmm," the Witch mused. "I mean the child you two have been blessed with. It's your first, isn't it? You must be simply overjoyed." She began taking slow, careful steps around the room, admiring it. "And I'm not here for much, not really," she said disinterestedly.

"Then why are you here?"

The Witch turned, and looked the king straight in the eye. "I want to make a deal."

Johnathan looked at Annaleasia in shock and wonder. What do we do? his face seemed to say. She managed a shrug – I'm not sure – then looked back to the Witch, curiosity starting to overcome her fear. Maybe we should listen. Johnathan looked back to the Witch as well. "What kind of deal?" he asked carefully.

The Witch clapped, obviously excited. "Oh, I'm glad you're interested." She advanced a few steps towards the rulers. "The deal is this: I will leave you, your castle, your city, your land, blah blah – everything, really – alone, meaning no more burnings or killings or destructions of any kind. In exchange, all I want from you is––" she paused, and shifted her gaze from Johnathan to Annaleasia, "your firstborn daughter."

Both their eyes went wide at the proposal. Annaleasia started tearing up at the thought.

"I know, I know, it's quite the thing to ask for. But think of it this way." She looked away and began pacing the room again, this time keeping all her focus on her nails. "Never again will you hear of the evil witch ravaging the land, destroying the countryside, or whatever else there's been. All you need to pay is one baby girl, and the name of the Black Rose Witch will become nothing more than the legend you––" she looked a Johnathan pointedly before continuing–– "always thought she was."

They were still in shock. The Witch rolled her eyes. "Please, it's not like I'm asking for your firstborn son. That would just be cruel. And I'm not asking for every daughter you ever have, just the first, that's all," she finished dismissively.

There was silence in the room for a few seconds, though to Johnathan it felt like years were passing away right before his eyes.

Annaleasia swallowed, then spoke. "We will do it."

"Anna!" Johnathan looked at her in bewilderment. "Anna, we––"

"Your queen has spoken, Johnathan," the Witch said firmly. "I suggest you listen to her."

Johnathan looked at Annaleasia. There was fear all over her face, and shining in her eyes. But there was also a small amount of determination. The Witch was what Annaleasia had feared all her life, and now – Johnathan could see – here was a chance to be rid of her forever. Of course Annaleasia would take the deal, but Johnathan was not ready to seal it yet. He turned back to the Witch, determination shining in his own eyes. "One more condition," he said to her bravely.

The Witch put her hands on her hips. "Oh? And what precisely would this condition entitle?"

Johnathan took a deep breath and continued on. "Until we have a daughter, you will leave the land and its people alone."

"Until?"

"This child may or may not be a girl. We will not know for a few more months. If it is a son, we need to be assured that you will not go on a tantrum and burn half the cities." He glanced at Annaleasia. "This is our condition."

The Witch looked at the brace king through narrow eyes. "You're all so very clever," she mumbled to herself. Finally, she lifted her head high. "Very well. Until a princess is born, and after I receive her, I shall behave myself. We are agreed. Now," she held her hand out to shake, "do we have a deal?"

Johnathan looked at Annaleasia again. She gave a small nod. He took a breath and firmly gripped the Witch's hand. "Yes," he said firmly, "we have a deal."

Thunder clapped outside. The Witch's smile came back. Black threads spun a cocoon around their hands, glowing black, sealing the deal.

The Witch released the king's hand and stepped away, still smiling. "Thank you ever so much for your cooperation. I shall see you again at the babe's birth." Black threads materialized again and started spinning around her feet, making their way up. "Oh, and don't forget," she said as she fully disappeared, her voice still ringing around the room. "I'll be watching."

* * *

Krystel reappeared in her bedroom, standing in front of her mirror. Her reflection glared back at her. "The king and queen?" Rose asked, incredulously. "Was that necessary?"

Krystel sat down on the chair, still in its place from their first conversation. "Well, I figured I should either do something completely unprecedented, or just give up."

"Giving up is a perfectly acceptable option."

"Not for me," Krystel shook her head. "You really should have done more research before just randomly choosing me. If you wanted to do something you wanted, you should have gone with Aglaia. Not me."

"So it seems," Rose mumbled, looking away.

Krystel took that as her cue that the conversation was already over. She stood up and walked over to her balcony doors, opening them and stepping into the cold air. The balcony was large and circular, fitting for a castle such as this. Even it was made of the same black emeralds, glinting greens and blacks in the moonlight. Her view of the mountain range was spectacular, and she could see half the land from her elevation.

She found Celemore easily enough; there was a palace there. She followed to the left, and found where Beaudale should have been.

Beaudale was very clear to her, or rather its remains. The land was scorched there. She looked at what she had done for a very long time. Aglaia was dead. Everyone there was dead. It had all been her fault. She could still see the black fountain, and her – the Witch's – mark on the ground.

This will end, she thought. Never again. She returned her attention to Celemore. A babe wouldn't arrive for many months. That was plenty of time to figure out the few holes in her plan. Krystel watched the lights of Celemore, finding their constant flickering to be rather calming. Like the dying embers of a fire, she mused to herself.

* * *

Johnathan and Annaleasia carefully made their own plans. If the Witch had a possibility to take their child, they wanted to be ready when she did. There was no way of telling if it was a boy or girl until it came. Only the rulers, and a few select servants knew of the babe's growing existence, and no one other than the two knew of the deal. If it was a girl, she would get taken by the Witch, and they did not want any riots breaking out in the land if that was the case.

Several months passed. Annaleasia was seen less and less by the people. Most were able to guess what was going on, though with no official word from the palace no one dared speak their theories out loud. Time drew nearer and nearer, Annaleasia could feel it. She was saddened by her impulsive decision. She had learned to love the little thing, and could not think of parting with it, even if it was for a good cause.

Johnathan was torn. Part of him felt the same as his queen, yet another felt joyous. There had been no reportings of the Witch in the past months, with the exception of what had happened at Beaudale, since they had made the deal. She was evil, yes, but she kept her word. That was something to be admired in her. He could look ahead in the future and see that true peace would soon return to his kingdom.

The day came. Annaleasia knew it, as well as the physician. The servants had prepared everything beforehand, and now was the time to act.

Krystel danced around her room. "Today's the day, today's the day!" she kept singing. Rose had had enough of the girl. She stood stoic in the mirror, her annoyance rolling off of her in waves. "Today's the day!" Krystel sang again.

"Okay!" Rose yelled. "Yes, today's the day! You can stop now!"

Krystel finished her last twirl toward the mirror. "Well, no need to hold back your excitement," she said, a bit breathless.

"Today's the day to see if your plan goes beautifully right, or horribly wrong," Rose added. "There's still a chance it's a boy, remember?" Krystel sat down, listening intently. "If it is a boy, you've failed."

"The deal was until they have a girl."

"Do you honestly believe they're going to try again?" Rose laughed. "You clearly haven't thought this through properly, and you're supposed to be the mastermind behind all this."

"I have thought this out, all the way in fact." Krystel stood. "Johnathan and Annaleasia are good people. If they don't get it on their first go, they'll try again. They've got too much riding on this deal."

"You trust too much."

"You don't trust enough."

"With good reason." Rose looked away, ready to be done with the conversation.

Krystel stalked towards the balcony, her eyes on the palace. She fully understood that she only had half a chance it was a girl. She simply hoped she had placed her bets properly, or Rose would never let her hear the end of it.

If she concentrated, Krystel could hear what was going on inside the palace. Bakers were baking, servants hustling about getting their chores done. Finally she heard a scream. "It's time," she whispered. "Please."

She ran over to the mirror and placed a hand on its frame. Rose retreated to the opposite side, watching. A faded image of the palace appeared. Krystel waved her hand in various directions until she had found their room. "You're going to watch the birth?" Rose asked, not hiding her disgust.

"Only slightly," Krystel replied, not paying much attention to her mirrored counterpart.

Watching Annaleasia made Krystel realize how lucky she was to never have to go through this. It looked beyond painful; she would never wish that on anyone. Krystel didn't know how long it went on.

Finally, she heard a cry. Both she and Rose straightened, watching closely. Krystel was praying in her head for a miracle. The physician blocked their view of the baby. He wrapped it in a white blanket very quickly.

He handed it off to Annaleasia. "Your heir, Highness," he said.

"NO!" Rose and Krystel screamed in unison. The image faded, and they turned away from each other. "No," Krystel said again softly. Disappointed had never hit her this hard before.

"Well," Rose said, still upset, "now what?"

Krystel didn't respond. She wasn't sure how to. She simply walked back to the balcony, closing the doors behind her. "Alright, Highnesses," she spat, glaring at the palace, "your move."

* * *

Johnathan and Annaleasia were more than relieved. A son! They had a son! They were safe, everyone was safe. But in the back of their minds were two small words they tried their best to ignore. A handmaiden took Aiden away, getting him washed and dressed.

Annaleasia panted on the bed. Johnathan kneeled beside her, holding her hand. "Annaleasia, we did it," he told her. "We have a son."

Annaleasia smiled at him, but soon dropped it. "What of the Witch?" she asked, concerned for herself and her husband, along with the rest of Aritia. "No doubt she knows."

Johnathan sighed and looked away. "We will simply have to trust that she will keep her word. She has thus far."

Annaleasia nodded, though her fears were not entirely calmed. "Will we have to try again? For a girl?"

Johnathan caressed his love's face. "Not until you are ready again." He kissed her forehead, attempting to comfort her. This, too, was a heavy thought on his mind. What would the Witch do? Should they try again? It all seemed to weigh him down. He remembered a saying his father once explained to him.

"Heavy is the head that wears the crown." He told Johnathan that right before his coronation, just weeks before he passed away. "It means that there are very many things going on at once, and you, as king, will have to find the best solution to all of it. And sometimes, not everyone is going to think that what you have chosen the best way to do things."

Johnathan could not think of how to peacefully deal with their deal. Annaleasia could read his thoughts as easily as ever. "Perhaps," she suggested tenderly, "if we invite her to the christening, she will be tame, even for a little bit?"

"I do not see how it will hurt," Johnathan agreed. Then another very important question entered his head: did the Seer know of the deal between them and the Witch? And if he did, why had he not said anything? "Get some rest, love," Johnathan told his queen. "There are some things to take care of."

"Alright," she said, closing her eyes. She gave his hand one last squeeze. "Do not hurt yourself," she teased, a small smile on her face.

Johnathan smiled back, then quietly left the room. "Call the Seer," he ordered as he made his way to his study. Aiden's christening was the most important matter at hand, along with the deal. And for both, he would need the advice of the Seer.

* * *

One week had passed since the prince's birth. The whole kingdom had found out now, and everyone was celebrating. Beaudale had been forgotten, as Rossason had when it was destroyed. Krystel paced back and forth, trying to think of what to do next. She avoided anything reflective, not wanting to hear whatever snide comments Rose had.

She walked around the edge of her balcony, looking over the celebrations in the nearby cities, when something around the border caught her interest. A group of soldiers, no more than six, had arrived at Beaudale and were clearly looking for something. "Or someone," Krystel mumbled to herself. The classic smile lit up her face. It had been a while since she had had any fun. She tapped her heel on the balcony twice, and was soon surrounded by her black threads. She disappeared, and rematerialized on the tip of the fountain.

"Can I help you gentlemen?" she asked loudly. The soldiers jumped at her voice, and turned to look at her quickly. They were silent. "Well? I don't have all day."

They looked at each other before one finally climbed off his horse and stepped forward. "We apologize for, uh, disturbing you, your, um..." He was at a loss as to what to call her. The king had specifically told them to treat her kindly, and with respect.

"'My lady' will do," Krystel said, getting tired of this already.

"My lady," the solider said. "We do not come to harm––"

"As if you could," she cut him off, jumping down from the fountain. She took a few steps towards him. "Get to the point."

He nodded, clearly scared. "Right." He reached into a bag on the horse, and pulled out a small, rolled piece of paper. He handed it to her. "An invitation from King Johnathan," he explained. "Your presence is requested at Prince Aiden's christening tomorrow morning, my lady." He swallowed.

Krystel unrolled the paper. This was a special invitation, just for her. Johnathan had handwritten it, and placed his seal in the bottom corner by his name. She looked it over, then smiled at the solider. "Thank you for this," she said. "Inform the king that I shall indeed be attending."

Again came the black threads, and she was gone. The solider quickly remounted his horse, and all six rode off at amazing speeds, glad to be away from her and the place.

Krystel strode into her room and waved the paper at Rose. "Someone wants us somewhere tomorrow. 'Please come peacefully. We wish to speak about our deal.'"

Rose smiled, though her voice was laced with acid. "You got invited to the prince's christening, and they've asked that you don't cause any trouble."

"I suppose we should abide. After all, when are we ever going to get willingly called to Celemore?"

* * *

The crowds lining the streets outside the palace was enough to make even the most outgoing of people cringe. Carriage after carriage carrying noble families filed through the palace gates, each one bringing their own gifts for the prince. Seers from around Aritia also came, ready to meet again with one another. Krystel watched the proceedings from different trees. She wouldn't make her appearance until later. For now, she was content watching everything from above.

The party was held in the throne room. King Johnathan and Queen Annaleasia were standing at the front, with Prince Aiden laying peacefully in a bassinet by his mother's side. One at a time, people were going up to give their gifts and congratulations to the royal family.

There was a clash at the back of the room, followed by many gasps. Everyone turned to look. Johnathan and Annaleasia already knew what was happening: she had arrived.

Krystel looked at the servant that had dropped his tray of food with pity. He was torn between cleaning up his mess and watching her. The nobles froze in their places. The announcer cleared his throat. Shakily, he yelled, "Now presenting, the Black Rose Witch!"

Whispers exploded around the room, all eyes on her. Krystel looked around, her wicked smile lighting up her face, before her gaze finally landed on the rulers. She began her walk towards them, the crowd parting in front of her, trying not to touch her. She approached the throne, stopping at the bottom of the steps. She gave a mock curtsey. "Your Majesties," she said.

"The Black Rose Witch," Johnathan greeted, "thank you for coming."

"Well, I was invited. It would have been rude to decline." Krystel walked up the few steps and looked into the bassinet. "So this is the little prince," she mused. "The one that ruined everything."

Annaleasia cleared her throat, loudly. Krystel looked up in surprise. Johnathan spoke quickly and quietly. "If I may have a word with you."

"Of course, Highness," she agreed. She gestured him to lead the way. "Go on."

He whispered something to Annaleasia, who nodded, then looked at Krystel. "Come then." He turned and began walking towards a side door. Krystel followed, amused at everyone's reactions. Upon Annaleasia's request, the orchestra picked up the music. Slowly, people started to enjoy the gathering again, though everyone's mind was still on why the Witch had come at all.

Johnathan did not lead Krystel very far, wanting to stay close to his son yet still have privacy. They went into a spare room, used for guests during balls, and Johnathan closed the door. "I'm not sure what you need to talk about," Krystel started, looking for a comfy place to relax. "My part of the deal holds as long as yours does."

"We know," Johnathan said. "There is something we want to clarify."

Krystel looked at him, eyes wide. "I beg your pardon?" she asked.

"We are going to try again," he kept explaining. "But Annaleasia cannot have children forever."

Krystel sighed. "Of course not." His logic made sense. "So what is it exactly that you need clarification on?"

Johnathan took a deep breath. "If she does not bear a daughter, what will you do?"

Krystel was silent. She had thought about this, but had never come to a sound conclusion. She looked away from him, and sat down in a chair sideways, her legs hanging over the arm. "If you two can't," she finally said, "then I suppose you'll have to pass this onto Aiden and whatever girl he marries. That only seems fair."

Johnathan nodded. "Yes, it does."

Krystel swung herself out of the chair. "Now, is that all you needed me for?" she looked down at her nails, walking towards the door.

"You are welcome to stay," Johnathan said. Krystel stopped in her tracks, and turned around. She gave the king a confused look. "You were invited. You may stay for the festivities."

Krystel was at a loss for words. She scoffed. "You know, you just might be the second kindest person I've ever met."

Johnathan gave her the confused look this time. "If I may ask, who was the first?"

Krystel looked down, remembering her love. She shook her head, not wanting the king to see her vulnerable. She looked back up and smirked. "I laughed when I read your little note. 'Please come peacefully,'" she mocked. "I can come as peacefully as I can. People are still going to panic."

Johnathan smiled. "Yes, I suppose you are right." He walked towards the door, opened it, and began walking back to the throne room. Krystel followed.

"But with your permission, I should like to make my exit as grand as my entrance."

He gave her a careful look. "No one will get hurt?"

"Of course not. That would be a direct violation of our contract."

Johnathan considered her words, then nodded. "Very well." He led her back to the throne room, then rejoined Annaleasia. He told her of what happened in whispers, while Krystel made her way to the center of the room.

"Now presenting Matthias, the Royal Seer, along with the Seers from the different cities in Aritia!" the announcer yelled. Krystel stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes locked onto the Seers coming in. The crowd glanced back and forth between her and the group. Krystel knew that the Seers would eventually appear, but she hoped she would be gone by that point. One Seer she could handle, but all of them was an entirely different case.

"Krystel?" one Seer said quietly. Krystel's eyes flew to her, her eyes going wide. She took a step back.

It was Xenia, the Seer who lived in Beaudale.

Krystel shook her head angrily. "No. No, you're dead. Everyone there is dead."

Xenia looked at Krystel with pity. "Oh, my dear, it is sad that this has become your fate."

She was on the verge of losing control again. She could feel the Black Soul inside her beating, trying to fight its way out of the cage Krystel had carefully crafted to keep it at bay. She clenched her hands into fists, her long nails digging into her palms. Blood dripped onto the porcelain floor. Her breathing increased.

Krystel looked back at Johnathan. Seeing him reminded her of their deal, gave her back a small amount of control, enough to get out. Her cloud of threads surrounded her immediately, and she was back in her room. She collapsed on the floor, leaning against the mirror. She opened her hands, looked at the nail–sized openings in her palm. Blood oozed slowly from the cuts. She let the drops fall onto her dress. For a moment she thought it was odd, a dead girl who still bled.

She thought back to Johnathan. Only one other person had ever had that kind of effect on her. She swallowed. "He reminds me of Airic," she said quietly. Her hands dropped to her sides. It had been the first time she'd spoken his name since he was killed. In the mirror Rose sat down next to her. Despite all the years, all the searching and destruction, the one thing she understood the best was a broken heart. Krystel turned towards her. Yes, Rose had ruined her life, but right now Rose was the closest thing she had to a friend. An unwilling tear slipped from her eyes. More followed, and before she could stop herself she was sobbing.

"I know," Rose said. She wrapped her arms around Krystel and laid her head on Krystel's shoulder. "I know."

Krystel eventually fell asleep like that. She woke up a few hours later. Rose was still there, leaning against her glass prison facing the opposite way. Krystel wiped off what was left of her tears. She looked at Rose. "How can you do that," she asked, her voice a bit hoarse from not using it, "put your arms around me like that?"

Rose didn't look at her, but still responded. "You touch the mirror, I can touch you," she answered as if it was the most basic thing ever. They sat in silence for a few minutes, then Rose asked, "So, now what? What's next in your grand scheme?"

Krystel gave a dry laugh. "Oh, you'll love this."

"Somehow I doubt that."

"We wait," Krystel explained. "We wait however long we need to until we get the first princess."

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