Isellta hugged Maelin and whispered in her ear, “Hug Jay for me.”
She smiled. “Will do, angel. Can I kiss you?”
He let go of her and nervously backed away.
“Let me rephrase the question: May I kiss your forehead?”
He thought about it.
“If you don’t want me to, that’s fine. I won’t push it.”
Isellta stepped forward. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes.
She swept his bangs off to the side and kissed his forehead. “Don’t let her hurt you. Stop her if she tries.”
He opened his eyes.
“And just be careful. Okay?”
She smiled. “Are you sure you aren’t using base fey magic on me?”
“Very sure. I would know. I would…feel it.”
“And you don’t feel it?”
He shook his head.
Jay sat on the edge of the bed. “Mae.”
She walked over to him. “This is from Isellta.” She sat next to him and hugged him.
Jay kissed her neck. “Did Isellta send anything else with that hug?”
She laughed. “Maybe.”
Isellta had a pretty good idea what was going to happen next. He decided to give them some privacy.
He left the room and closed the door behind him.
And, just like that, all of his fears came crashing back down on him. He shuddered as the monsters breathed hot air on the back of his neck.
Isellta tried to keep it all together. He walked down the hall. But his heart pounded and he struggled to breathe.
He reached the corner and spread his hands on the wall. He bowed his head, trying to find his breath.
His body jolted as the monsters dug their dirt-stained teeth into his shoulders. They crunched down into his bones and pulled and tugged.
His fingers flared out from the pain.
They abandoned his shoulders, moving on to his elbows and his wrists and his hands and his fingers. They looked at him with their glowing red eyes as their fangs tore into him.
He cried out with a frightened child’s desperation and slunk down into a grovel. He cried uncontrollably as they ravaged his wings.
He couldn’t think.
He couldn’t speak.
All he could do was cry.
And the monsters didn’t care. They continued on with their attack.
someone. help. help me.
He trembled at the sound of his queen’s voice.
“What is wrong with you? I told you to kill Mark Caten. If you kill him, we’ll be free. Do you understand that?” She grabbed a chunk of his hair and pulled his head back.
He choked out a sob.
“Do you understand any of that?”
“Then, why don’t you do it? Why can’t you do this one small thing for me?”
“Because. It isn’t. It isn’t small. It’s taking a life away. I can’t give it back to him and neither can you.”
“Why would either of us be interested in doing that?”
“In case you’re wrong. In case killing him doesn’t set us free. In case we need him to—”
She punched his left shoulder. “I. Want. Him. Dead.” She punched him again and again.
He crumpled to the floor.
The monsters laughed as they dragged their claws through his skin.
Why can’t the floor just swallow me?
“You’re weak. That is your only reason for not doing it. You’re a weak little coward.” She kicked him.
“Stop it.” He whimpered as he rubbed his shoulder. “I’m being sensible, Your Majesty. I can see the lines. Straight, perfect lines. Killing Mark Caten is a broken, misshapen line. It isn’t right.”
“I don’t care, Isellta. All that matters to me is that he finally gets his comeuppance. That he dies a bitter, miserable death. I want him to suffer. I want him to beg and plead for death. I want him to beg for mercy. I want him to grovel at my feet, bloody and broken. I want him to apologize for everything he’s ever done to me in the hopes that I will grant him mercy. But I will never show him mercy. I will laugh in his face. I will see his despair and rejoice.”
Isellta raised his head. “You’ll have to find someone else to do it. I am not a murderer and I am not a torturer. That is not who I am.”
“True.” She gave him an ice cold look. “And you will never be free.”
“Your Majesty. I know this isn’t the right moment to ask you this question, but—” He drew his shoulders forward as the monsters clawed up his chest and stomach. “uhh. uhh. I…uhh…Robin’s coming.” He winced. “Robin’s coming, Your Majesty. And I can’t touch him. I can’t even go near him.”
He bit down on his lower lip and tried to rein in his emotions. “Your Majesty, please remove the barrier. I’m willing to face the risk of getting hurt. I need him. I need his touch. I need his love.”
“We all have things we need, Isellta. Doesn’t mean we’ll ever get it.”
“Your Majesty, please. I’ll…”
“Kill Mark Caten for me?”
Isellta’s wings flittered involuntarily.
“That’s what I thought.” She turned to leave.
“Your Majesty. I know.” He winced as the monsters bit into his hips. “uhh. unnh. Please.”
She looked down at him.
“This means so much to me. It means everything to me. It’s all I want. He is all I want. I know. I know you don’t see things the way I do. I’m not like you in so many ways. But the simple truth is: I love him. If I can’t be with him…If I can’t touch him…If he can’t touch me…” He cried. “I’d rather have my wings torn off my back.”
She walked away without saying another word.