In that moment I learned exactly what an ant must feel like before it’s crushed by a boot. I’m minding my own business, not bothering anyone else and then crunch. An enormous black shoe crunches my exoskeleton and I become a splattered speck on the sidewalk. Brother. That simple word had the power of a wrecking ball. With tears and blood streaming down my cheeks I studied Mark’s face for a look of surprise or bewilderment. Anything that might exonerate him from being a traitor. Maybe he didn’t know he had a brother. Or maybe I had miss heard the Chancellor and he had said smother or other. But the tears in Mark’s eyes confirmed my worst fears. I whipped my gun out and aimed it at Mark.
“Myra, please.” Mark reached out to touch my hand.
“No!” I screamed. “Stay the hell away from me!” My ribs screamed in protest as I spoke. I grasped at my side. I was sure I had a broken rib from Heera kicking me.
“She’s bleeding Andrew.” What looked like genuine concern filled Mark’s face.
Andrew’s sneered at his brother. “Humans tend to do that if they get tossed around too much. It’s nice to know she functions properly.” His sarcasm burrowed into my cuts. Screaming in frustration and ripping my hair out wasn’t an option, but how I wish I could do that. “Eric, get her some water.” My vision tunneled as Mark, well Eric, brought me a fresh cup of water. As if I was a wild lion he gingerly handed me the cup.
“Your real name isn’t Mark?” The words caused my throat to swell up. Mark lowered his eyes like a child caught stealing from the cookie jar. I threw the water in his face. Mark didn’t even flinch. “I trusted you.” I caught the Monarch studying me. I could hear her thoughts. I told you I was right about him Myra. “Was any of it real? Your backstory? Your parent’s being hung? Were they even your parents or did you murder innocent people to complete our façade?”
Mark shook his head and looked back at Andrew. Andrew rolled his eyes. “There are no, Vitali’s. That is not Mark’s last name. Those bodies were not our parents. I needed to stage a scene that would draw you closer to the truth. Luckily, Mark, as you call him, is a very good improve actor.” Andrew winked at Mark.
“Myra, I didn’t know Andrew was going to stage the entire thing and bait her,” he thrust his thumb at Heera who lay in a heap on the ground. “into murdering two innocent people that she thought were my parents.” My entire body trembled in fury. “And yes, I lied to you but I had honorable intentions.”
“That doesn’t justify any of this.” Was it possible for a human heart to break in half? “You made me believe that I wasn’t alone!” I shoved the barrel of my gun into his temple. Tears cascaded down his face, but he didn’t say anything, which raised my body temperature to boiling. “I defended you against my family and you have the nerve to play me? Stop crying! You have no right to any emotion except shame, you pathetic, two faced, traitor.” Mark’s tears dried up instantly. His red eyes met mine, but I refused to feel anything.
“Trust me, I understand wanting to put a bullet in my little brother’s head. He can be a particular pain in the ass. But I must recommend you not to.” The Chancellor was hovering over Heera with a gun twirling in his hands, like he was playing with a baton.
“Why should I listen to you?” My breath felt like fire. I imagined smoke billowing from my lungs, engulfing Mark until he suffocated on my pain. His eyes remained glued to mine. I could see the random shades of amber in his chestnut beard. The small chip in his front tooth which flashed whenever he grinned at me. Now I wanted to knock his teeth out.
The Chancellor casually strolled over to the monitor. He inserted a small white chip into the box and a new horrifying image made my head spin. Reena’s limp body leaned against a white wall. Her once beautiful waterfall hair was chopped short like it was hacked at with a machete. Those intelligent cold eyes were shattered. Thousands of papercut thin slices marred her once beautiful face. Shackles wrapped around her limbs. She was bound the way one would tie up an animal. “You see, your sister is currently preoccupied. I needed a little leverage to get what I want. I hope you don’t mind, I didn’t ask before I took her.” My fire arm started to tremble.
“After everything Reena has done to my family and me, why would you think I would care about her fate?” I tested. I felt Heera’s hot gaze burning a hole through my skull.
“Because if you really were that cruel, you would have killed her when you had a sword to her throat all those days ago. You wouldn’t let your sister suffer, no matter what sins stain her soul.” I wanted to argue with Andrew but I knew he was right. At least, he was right that I had a soft spot for my sister. She was family after all. With great self-annoyance, I dropped my weapon. The Chancellor’s clapping vibrated off the pristine windows.
“You really are Chancellor material, Andrew.” Heera voice was scratchier than usual. I swallowed back my guilt as best as one could after they tried to choke their birth mother. “All the games, manipulations, it’s really artistic.” Heera picked herself up using the fountain as a crutch. Andrew mock bowed.
“That means very little coming from such a bitch.” The venom in his words was paralyzing. Heera raised her eyebrow in surprise but didn’t reply. Mark fixed his fiery gaze on Heera now.
“Stop it. Both of you.” I was surprised my voice still worked because the rest of my body was still trying to catch up. “I’m tired of your games. Why did you lie? What do you want?”
“Death.” I barely caught the word slip out of Mark’s lips. He pulled out a gun hidden behind his back and pointed it at Heera. “Her death.” All I saw was a gun pointed at the woman who had caused me a mountain of pain. Yet, I did the most unnatural thing. I jumped in front of the gun and planted myself there.
“No one is dying right now.” I glanced back at Heera. Her mystified expression mirrored my thoughts. I had no explanation for my sudden desire to defend her. I at least wanted to know the charges against her before her execution. “Not until you brothers explain yourselves.” Mark didn’t budge. His sight was trained on Heera like an attack dog awaiting orders. “Mark. Eric. Whatever the hell your name is, you owe me.” Mark’s gaze fell to me and then to his brother. Andrew shrugged and strolled over to the stream.
“You see Myra, we have something in common.” The Chancellor inspected a flower that blossomed by the stream. He ran his fingers through the delicate petals. “We both love our family and we would do anything for them.” Andrew crushed the flower in his palm. “Our mother was a wonderful woman. She cared so much to make the world a better place.” The Chancellor’s eyes reminded me of a sea grass swaying in the wind. Such a contrast from the normal tornado of insanity in his forest eyes. I squirmed at seeing vulnerability on this monster’s face. “She loved people so much, and has served them faithfully for many years.”
“Her name was Amanda Mancini.” Mark said. I heard Heera intake a sharp breath. Her face was once again a white canvas of shock. Mark turn towards her, “you should recognize the name.” Mark took a step towards Heera but I shoved him back.
“You won’t touch her, until I say we are through.” I needed more pieces of the puzzle. “Amanda Mancini. She was the surviving member of the Mancini’s, who were one of the three founding families. She supported Heera’s reign. You asked me about her the first day we met.” I remembered her sweet face from the news reports on the First Day, commemorating the current Monarch’s victory over her competitors. “I told you she committed suicide because she couldn’t handle the pressure of being a supporting member of a founding family. That story was all over the news when I was a little girl.” Andrew spun around and threw a potted plant through the atrium. Glass exploded everywhere and the fresh outside air dropped the temperature in the room.
“That’s exactly the story you wanted to spin, wasn’t it?” Andrew waved the gun at my mother. “You knew that any sort of mental illness would cause a stigma on our family. So, she chose the suicide route to humiliate our family. Our father had to go into hiding, to avoid being executed by the Magistrate. My brother and I were forced to steal identities.” He switched to a falsetto tone to mimic Heera’s voice. “Mental illnesses run in the family, if the Mother was less than perfect because she committed suicide, think about how imperfect her offspring must be. No one in the family is fit for power.” To my heart’s utter surprise, Heera had tears streaming down her face. Snot dripped from her ski-sloped nose. True grief rushed out of her body.
“Wait, she didn’t commit suicide?” I asked. Mark’s cloudy eyes stared blankly at the colorful tiles. “She-she, was murdered?” I zeroed in on Heera. “By you?” Heera didn’t reply. She just hung her head like she had accepted her fate. “All because you wanted to become Monarch.” Heera shook her head but she still remained silent. Her body was shivering like she was going into a state of hypothermia.
Andrew rolled his eyes at Heera’s pathetic form. “She wanted all the power. She knew the two offspring of a member of the founding family, would have the right to rule. So, she cut out her competition. With Amanda branded as a suicidal, unstable Tainted, there was no way, Mark or I would ever become Monarch.” Heera’s pitiful moans filled the room, but Andrew scoffed at her.
“Whatever lies she would have you believe, yes, she did murder our mother. She ruined our lives. Two boys forced to grow up without a mother. A father that had to hide his family away because he was afraid the Magistrate would come to execute us.” Andrew ran his hair through his blonde hair. “I swore that I would find evidence that mother’s death wasn’t a suicide. My brother and I changed our names. He became Mark and I morphed into Andrew. When I was old enough, I worked my way up the Magistrate with a clear goal of becoming Chancellor. I pretended to be Reena’s lap dog, all while spying on our dear perfect Monarch.” Andrew sneered at Heera. “At first, I thought I would just murder the Monarch, plain and simple revenge, nothing too messy. Then, dear Reena told me about you.” He pointed his bony finger at me. “You made a mess of things. Though, I guess I never really knew how tangled your family was. The long-lost daughter, given away to protect her. Then Mark had the genius idea that you might have evidence of our mother’s innocence or you might be able to get a confession out of Heera about what she had done.” I forced myself to keep looking at Andrew and told myself to deal with Mark later. “So, I got rid of Evan Stewart, replaced him with Mark. Mark did the rest. He fed you a sob story, that lead you down a path of unwinding your family history. And now here we are. We finally have all three royals in our custody. I would have convinced Heera to kidnap Mark sooner, if I knew it would be that easy to draw you away from everyone else.” Andrew shrugged his shoulders, but still looked very pleased with his entire plan.
“Myra, we just need you to get the truth out of Heera.” Mark approached me, lowering his gun. “We want justice, we want the truth.” I caught Andrew’s upper lip curling. A stone dropped in my stomach. If I couldn’t settle for justice after everything Heera and Reena did to me, then how could two men who concocted such a plan to find out the truth of their mother’s death only want justice. No, they would finish Heera off the second she said anything. And knowing how volatile the Chancellor was, he would murder Reena for all the abuse she put him through the past few years. The truth wouldn’t be setting anyone free today.
“If you just wanted the truth you wouldn’t have taken Reena hostage.” My dry lips could hardly form a sentence. “You’ll kill us all the second Heera says anything.” Heera was standing up now, with her head touching her chest. “You infiltrated my life and tortured me for revenge of your mother’s murder. I can understand the hate towards Heera. I can understand the hate towards Reena, who treated Andrew like a pet. I can almost understand the need to torture me because I am the spawn of the devil herself.” Heera stared at me through her curtain of soggy hair. “What I don’t understand, is why you would torture James Crowley the way you did.” Andrew stiffened. His cold gaze fixed on me. “I saw the way you looked at him. You cut out his tongue. That wasn’t hate, that was the kind of loathing that eats away at your soul.” Within two strides, Andrew was in front of my face. Mark tried to get in between us, but Andrew shoved his brother away. Andrew grabbed me by my throat. With one hand he was crushing my windpipe. I crawled and scratched but he just kept staring at me with those emerald eyes.
“My reason for chopping out that coward’s tongue is my own and I assure you, that is none of your business.” Andrew hissed through his perfect teeth. Suddenly, Heera came charging at Andrew. She tried to pry him off me, but he simply pushed the shaken women to the ground. Then he finally let me go. He shook out his arms, like he was preparing to snap me in half next time. Air tingled inside of me as I gasped.
“Green.” I managed to wheeze out. Andrew spun around to stare at me.
“What?” He raised his eyebrows.
“You have green eyes.” I rubbed my aching throat. I caught Mark’s eye. He was shaking his head discreetly. He was thinking the same thought I was, but he wanted me to keep my mouth shut. With one look at the mercuric temperament of Andrew, I realized Mark was right, so I kept my suspicions to myself.
“Yes, I do.” Andrew waved his hands over his body. “They are rare and exceptional, just like me. Shall we proceed?” He fixed his gaze on Heera, who was picking herself up off the floor. She wrapped her trembling hand around my wrist. A gust of air blew in through the window that Andrew had shattered. A new sound greeted my ears, a low hum of an engine. My heart started jogging in anticipation. “Myra, if you could be so kind as to get your mother to confess to the murder of Amanda Mancini, on camera, that would be wonderful or else your sister, Reena faces a horrible death.” Andrew pressed a single button and a red light sprung to life. I saw my bloodied face on every hologram in the room. When I peered outside, the carnage of the room was projected on every screen as far as I could see. My mother’s broken spirit showed in her lackluster eyes. Andrew and Mark were going to show everyone that their Monarch was a murderer and no longer fit to rule.
“Who becomes Monarch when you get what you want?” I demanded.
Andrew smoothed out his suite and flashed a relaxed smile at me. “Oh, my dear, I haven’t gotten everything I want yet. But when I become Monarch, nothing and no one will be out of reach and I will have everything I could need. After all, if Heera hadn’t murdered my mother, then I have no doubt, my mother would have made an excellent leader and I would be next in line. Now go on, the people are waiting.” Mark raised his eyes in surprise, like he hadn’t expected his brother to accept the power.
What more could this lunatic want? I wondered. I had a feeling I knew what he was searching for but that was a thought for another time. My eyes fixed on the video of Reena locked away in a hole somewhere. She sat with her head hanging between her knees. Seeing her so defeated made her seem human, a thought that seemed almost impossible. The breeze pulled me away from Reena and brought me to Heera, who stood close to the broken window. Her lips were moving but no sound came out of them. She wasn’t the cool collected dictator I had seen before. This woman before me was a malfunctioning machine. From the second Amanda’s death was brought up, Heera’s wires frayed and she fell apart. Did a murderer react to their victims in such a way? I didn’t think so. I stepped towards Heera so that we were inches away from the window.
“Before I ask her anything, I have a question for you both that you must answer honestly.” Andrew shrugged but Mark’s posture was still tense. “Do you have my father? He went missing during the same time Mark was kidnapped.”
“No, we don’t have him, Myra.” Mark said gently. Then his gaze shot to Andrew. “Someone else took him.” Andrew and Mark had a silent conversation that I couldn’t follow, but it looked like Mark was trying to warn Andrew. Mark’s pleading eyes fixed back to me. “I know I have zero credibility, but we didn’t take him. We only took your sister as leverage and we will let her go as soon as you get Heera to speak.”
“Myra,” Heera’s voice was like trying to hear a mouse squeaking in the middle of a thunderstorm. “Maybe it is time for some truth.” Fear rolled off of her in waves that engulfed me. I rested my hand on top of hers.
“The truth would be so nice.” I told her. I glanced from Andrew to Mark, their expression’s equally hungry for validation. I looked deep into Heera’s grief sunken eyes. “But now is not the time.” Then I shoved her out the window.