Chapter Twenty Nine
My consciousness was floating through an empty, dark space. Throughout it, my heartbeats pounded loudly, echoing in my ears alongside the fading pleas for help. I was blissfully unaware of what was going on around me. The silence that surrounded me hung in the air like a gaping void, needing to be filled with sounds, voices, anything. It gnawed at my insides and lingered in the air, thick and heavy, like a blanket luring me to a deep and dreamless slumber.
Am I dead? Was the first thing that crossed my troubled mind in that unresponsive state, and the idea of me not surviving sounded reasonable and rational after the dangerous and self-sacrificing stunt I pulled to defeat the high ranked Grim ones.
It seemed almost tragic, to finally figure out who I was and what I was meant to be, only to lose everything in the blink of an eye again. But I couldn’t bring myself to regret the decisions I had made, for they resulted in the safety of everyone I held dear. After all, what were my powers even for if I didn’t use them to save my people, my family, and my friends?
Whenever I tried to move or ponder about my condition, that silence followed, always watching never fading, like my own personal shadow. It has spread into my veins, drowning my mind in its thick nothingness. Not long after, my thoughts deserted me as well, leaving me drunk in a deep exhaustion. Quickly enough, the silence became eerily tempting and inviting and I found myself drawn to it and its quietness. I wanted to fight it, to push back against it so I can go back and check on my people, but the darkness was too tempting.
The silence was too peaceful.
And so, I drifted.
I had no idea how long I was drifting in that state of nothingness before my senses started functioning again. At first it was faint, a barely audible sound that hardly disturbed the silence. Then it started growing louder and louder until it was all I could focus on. It wasn’t exactly clear, nothing like the screams for help that plagued my mind before I finally surrendered to the peace. It was more like a white noise machine spitting unidentifiable murmurs as you fought the polar pulls of sleep and consciousness. I tried to move, to push back against the darkness one more time, but my limbs wouldn’t cooperate. So I focused my attention on the sounds instead.
After what felt like an eternity, the murmurs turned into jumbled words which soon started making sense. I recognized the voice of my mother- Queen Annabelle- ever so soft and melodic, talking to someone else.
“… much longer? We’re all so worried about her!”
“Her body has healed itself completely, which is an incredible feat for such a short amount of time your highness. Her vitals are stable and physically everything seems to be alright.”
“We can’t wake her up. Her brain is protecting her from the trauma of all the recent events so we have no idea when she’ll wake up. She’ll have to do that herself.”
My brain seemed to be doing that a lot in the past two years. Trauma after trauma, it’s a miracle it still had the ability to function at all.
The beeping in the room grew louder and louder until I could barely handle it anymore. I craved that peaceful silence once again, the nothingness that engulfed me was soothing, but as the darkness opened its arms to embrace me once more I knew I couldn’t go back.
My throat was dry and itchy and my tongue felt like sandpaper against my mouth. My eyes were heavy and as I forced my lids open the bright light felt like tiny daggers against my tired eyes. A barely audible whimper left my mouth in protest, but soon enough my mother was by my side, her usually calm voice loud with worry and relief.
There it was again.
“Aline, darling can you hear me?”
I gritted my teeth against the onslaught of protests that fought to leave my mouth and nodded instead.
“Oh my goodness honey I’m so glad you’re awake.”
I tried opening my eyes again but the light was still too bright.
“Can you dim the lights please?”
“Of course your highness.” The doctor, I assumed, rushed out before heading to do as asked.
Once I could finally open my eyes, I looked around me. My mother’s face was the first thing I saw, pale with exhaustion but just as regal as always. She smiled warmly as she caressed my face, rushing to hand me a glass of water when I cleared my throat.
I tried to sit up but the wires and whatnots that were hooked to my arm restricted my movement. I had half a mind to just rip them out because they weren’t exactly doing much, but I didn’t want the queen and the doctor to think I was deranged.
Better I kept that to myself.
Noticing my frustration, my mother helped me sit up and put a bunch of fluffed pillows behind my back for support. I smiled weakly, grateful for the assistance.
“How are you feeling?” She asked.
“Fine.” I nodded.
“Does anything hurt? Are you in any pain? Do you need anything?”
“Mom!” I cut her off. “I’m alright.” I held the hand she extended towards me. “I promise.”
“I just have to run a couple of tests, your highness.” The doctor cleared his throat, addressing my mother. “It won’t take long; I just have to make sure everything is as it should be.”
The queen nodded and stepped back, allowing the doctor to start his prodding and poking.
After he was done, he assured us both that everything was indeed fine and excused himself, promising to alert the king of the new developments. Not long after he left the door to the room burst open and my father rushed in.
“Oh Aline, thank the heavens!” His voice boomed through the hospital wing.
“Lower your voice, Alexander.” The queen reprimanded. “She barely just woke up.
“And we are in a hospital.” I reminded them.
“Yes, of course!” His hazel eyes shone with unshed tears. “I apologize.”
He stood there awkwardly for a second, his fingers playing with the hem of his suit jacket. I looked both my parents over. Two years apart felt like an eternity, but they looked exactly as I remembered them.
“Well?” I started as they both looked at me like I was an unknown phenomenon. “Can I get a hug?”
It seemed as if my words were a hammer that broke the awkward tension piece by piece and in seconds both of them were at either side of me, engulfing me in a warm, albeit awkward embrace.
Hours passed by in what felt like seconds as we talked and caught up, soon joined by my siblings. The conversation was light, they asked about me and what I was up to in the past couple of years, about my memory loss and my life at the academy. They assured me everyone was alright and the kingdoms were still standing which was a relief. I noticed however that certain subjects were being avoided so I decided to let them go for now, guessing they were just trying to take it easy with me. They hugged me again one by one before leaving me to get some rest, but I was too alert to go back to sleep, so when it was Jessica’s turn I held on to her until the others left.
“He’s right outside.” She smirked.
“What?” I blinked. “How did you…”
“I know you little sis.” She cut me off, still smirking. “He’s been outside the entire time, wouldn’t leave no matter how hard we tried to kick him out.” She ruffled my hair slightly. “I’ll send him in.”
Seconds after she left the door opened again.
Chase looked rough, for the lack of a better word. His clothes, the same ones from the battle, were muddied and torn. His hair resembled a bird’s nest and his eyes were red rimmed and droopy.
“Did you even get some sleep?” I asked.
“Hello to you too.” He smiled as he sat down on the chair next to my bed.
“You look terrible.” I whispered.
“I’ve been in this bed for… wait how long was I unconscious?”
“Three days.” He swallowed. “You forgot to ask?”
“Yeah.” I laughed. “It slipped my mind. But I bet I look just as terrible.”
“You look beautiful.”
There goes my poor heart.
“You were always a terrible liar.” My smile widened. “How are you?”
“Physically?” I’m fine. No serious injuries thanks to you.”
“You did pretty well on your own. And mentally?”
He paused, eyes lowered to the ground and shoulders hunched.
“You’ve been through a terrible ordeal Chase.” I reached for his hand and held it in mine. “You’re allowed to fall apart.”
“I can say the same for you.” His thumb caressed my palm.
“I’ve fallen apart plenty in the past two years.” My smile was bitter. “It’s time I put myself back together.”
“Let me help you.” He whispered.
“You have always taken care of me, always been there to put me back together even when I wasn’t “me”. You had to be strong and put-together your entire life. Let me help you this time.”
Eyes closed, he held my hand in his and laid his head in my lap. Warm tears trickled down my fingers as he sobbed silently, years of fatigue and exhaustion released in the form of scalding tears. I ran my other hand through his matted hair, giving him whatever comfort I possibly could. We stayed like that, engulfed in our own bubble of pain, relief and silence for a long time.
“So, catch me up on what happened during my nap.”
He was now sitting up again, feet resting on the edge of the bed, munching on an apple he snatched from the tray a nurse brought for me. I toyed with the plastic spoon as I waited, stabbing the jelly over and over again.
“The guards raided Catherine’s wing.” His voice was cold, detached.
“After your heroic stunt,” I rolled my eyes at his glare, “word of the Queen’s return made its way to the other kingdoms somehow and the last of the Grim ones retreated back to the underworld. The royal families sent some of their high ranked guards to “help”. His tone was as sarcastic as his air quotes. “Odds are they just wanted to make sure you really are alive.”
“It must have been a disappointment to find me in a coma instead.”
“You were breathing. That’s all that mattered.” He took another bite of the apple. “After running rescue missions and security detail, the questioning started.”
“Everyone who was conscious and coherent was questioned. Kira, Rose, Eli, Kevin, Gabby, Mr. Blackthorn, the Ignises… Everyone. The knowledge of the betrayal of one of the royals sent the kingdoms into frenzy and, understandably, Catherine’s parents refused to believe their daughter had anything to do with anything. Not even after we told them about Kyle.”
My stomach knotted at the mention of his name and flashes of that night invaded my mind. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“What happened then?”
“Your parents ordered the raid. The Guards took hours tearing her suite apart but they finally found the journal.”
He paused and I gave him a questioning look. I didn’t need the suspense right about then.
“She hid a journal in her safe. In it she detailed everything about her life, from her childhood, to the resentment she harbored against you, the first time she opened a portal into the underworld, her dabbles in black magic… everything was there. Even what happened two years ago.”
A moment of silence passed as we both got lost in our thoughts. I felt almost guilty for causing the spiral of destruction my cousin was caught in. Somewhere in my brain, I knew I wasn’t responsible for her actions because I never did anything to cause her harm, but I still couldn’t help feeling at fault, after all, I was the reason behind her demise.
“It’s not your fault.” Chase whispered. He always had a knack for knowing exactly what I was thinking.
I nodded, unwilling to continue this conversation.
“You should go get some rest.” I gave him a faint smile. “And maybe a shower.”
“I’m not tired.” I would have believed him if it weren’t for the yawn that interrupted his sentence.
“I’ll be fine Chase.” I pushed his feet off the bed. “Go, sleep.”
“Alright.” He nodded after what seemed like forever. “I’ll be back soon.”
“I’ll be here.”
The days that followed were a blur. I was discharged from the hospital the very next day, against my mother’s wishes, and cleared to join society as a healthy and -somewhat- sane individual. Kira and Rose were finally cleared to enter the kingdom and we spent hours catching up. I told them about everything I could remember and answered the millions of questions they kept throwing my way. Eli and Kevin also visited me, which was surprising considering we weren’t that close. But I guess avenging the death of their best friend and prince meant they were now loyal to me till their last breath, or so they said. They told me about Kyle’s funeral, the beautiful memorial they held for him and the statue that was commissioned in his memory. They kept me in the loop regarding the new security measures and the rebuilding in Halitus and I was grateful to have them as allies.
“Have you heard from Isaiah?”
Chase and I were walking along the path in the garden. He said it would be good for me to step away from all the politics for a few minutes. He was right, it was getting a little overwhelming.
“You haven’t heard?” He gave me a confused look.
“Heard what?” I stopped walking and turned to stand in front of him.
“He is being held by the king and queen for questioning. Mr. Blackthorn, Genevieve and Nathanial Ignis are all under questioning for treason.”
The chatter of the guards reached my ears before I walked into the meeting hall. The throne room was still being rebuilt so for the past couple of days all royal business had been taking place in the second biggest space in the castle.
“Your highness.” One of the guards bowed and soon the other two joined him.
“Open the door.”
“I’m sorry; we are under direct orders from the king…”
“I said, open the door.”
The three of them stole glances at each other, unsure of what to do, before the main guard cleared his throat and stepped aside to open the door.
“… jeopardizing the throne and the kingdom.” My father’s voice boomed. “What you did is treason.”
“What they did,” I started just as loudly and all heads turned to look at me. “Is protect and help me for more than two years.”
On one side of the room sat my mother on her throne like chair, her face stern and her hands clasped together on the table. Behind her, the king paced the room, now stood still with a disapproving look on his face. On the other side were Isaiah, Nate and Gen, sat with their heads bowed to the royals out of respect.
“Aline …” My father spoke but I held my hand up to stop him. It was completely disrespectful but I had no time for pleasantries or decorum when the three people who saved my life were on trial. They were accused of treason.
And the punishment for treason was death.
“If it weren’t for Mr. Blackthorn and the Ignises I wouldn’t be here today. They saved my life and took care of me for two years both inside and outside of the academy, and as a show of gratitude you put them on trial?”
“They kept you away from us, from your home.” My father seethed.
“I had no idea who you were dad. I had no idea who I was.” I made my way to where my mentor and adoptive parents sat. “And in case you had forgotten, the traitor who tried to kill me was here, in my home.”
“We could have protected you!” The king insisted.
“From whom?” I questioned. “The four kingdoms had an ongoing investigation for the whole time I was gone and still no one was able to find out the traitor was my own flesh and blood.”
“Lilith.” Genevieve’s voice was a soothing whisper against the tide of emotions that started to take over me. I took a deep breath and walked closer to where she was sitting.
“Calm down honey, everything will be fine.” Her soft smile brought tears to my eyes.
“I missed you.” I whispered.
“We missed you too dear.”
I let a couple of tears stream down my cheeks as Gen and Nate engulfed me in a hug. I didn’t blame them for keeping the truth from me, they did what they thought was best to protect me, and I owe everything to them.
“If I may, your highness,” Isaiah spoke, his voice firm and as strong as always. “We couldn’t risk the safety of the queen by bringing her back to the castle. She was very hurt and barely alive when I found her and when she woke up and didn’t remember who she was we knew it would be foolish to bring her here.”
“You could have told us!” King Alexander said. “We are her parents; we had the right to know.”
“I couldn’t take such a risk your highness.” Isaiah bowed his head slightly.
“Well, now that this has been cleared…” I started but my father cut me off.
“We’re not done here.”
“I believe we are.” I tried my best to control my tone. “I mean no disrespect your highness, but I’m still the queen and my first order of business will not be taking the lives of the people who gave me back mine.”
“You’re not the queen just yet.” My mother said, her smile indicating she was more proud than disapproving. “You haven’t been crowned yet.”
“Well, let’s get started on that shall we?” I smiled back. “In the meantime I will be having lunch with my guests.”
As the four of us made our way out of the meeting hall, my father voiced his displeasure once again:
“We’re not done with this Aline.”
“I believe we are dad.” I bowed slightly before reaching the door.
“And my name is Lilith.”