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C2 Chapter 1


"Sometimes wolves come in sheep's clothing."

—Fenris Vane

They won't kill me. At least not yet. As far as words of consolation go, these are pretty pathetic, but they're all I have. They're the words I whisper to myself when Metsi comes in each morning to administer my dose of prenatal herbs by having her lackey force my jaw open as she pours the bitter liquid down my throat. They're the words I use to quiet my mind at night when I am left alone save for the sound of the wind and wild animals outside my barred window. They're the words I think to myself each morning when I lurch out of bed to vomit up my morning sickness into a pail they left for me. I don't know if this is caused by my pregnancy, or by the herbs Metsi gives me—but each day I feel worse.

It only took a week for these words to replace dum spiro spero in my mind. I still have hope, deep down, buried where my magic now lays dormant. I have tried to cast spells, but my magic is a dead thing inside me, there but useless. They've placed wards on my room to ensure I cannot use magic, and it works.

It's not a fancy room, but it's not a dungeon. So there's that. I have a small mattress on the floor that's clean and warm. A room in which to bathe and relieve myself. And three changes of clothes so that I don't stink. And there's one window, always left open, but barred with lead to keep me from escaping. My door is always locked. There are no decorations. Nothing to occupy my mind save the occasional book Metsi brings in to let me read—mostly very dry books about the history of the Fae.

Each day I get a walk to keep the baby healthy. The walk involves following Metsi and her guard down to the dungeons, where I endure an hour of watching them torture Levi.

As I sit and watch right now, my stomach clenches and bile rises in my throat. It is suffocatingly hot down here, with no ventilation and fires burning that smell of flesh. The air is acrid and stale and reeks of blood, sweat and excrement. I cannot control my vomiting when I'm down here, so Metsi hands me a bucket, but refuses to allow me to go back to my room.

"I would think you would enjoy watching this monster suffer," Metsi says, holding up a knife, the tip red hot from the fire she held it in. "After all, did you not suffer at his hands? Did you not see the effects of what he did to your friend Kayla? To the people you claim to love? He is getting nothing less than what he deserves."

Her next words are drowned out by the screaming. Levi no longer looks like a man, but rather like a charred, skinned wild thing that just wants to be put out of its misery.

And Metsi's not entirely wrong. There was a time I would have paid to see Levi get his comeuppance. A time I would have volunteered to exact justice from his flesh. A pound for a pound. But I didn't know what I know now. I didn't know that seeing someone tortured, seeing someone suffer beyond measure, takes its toll on your soul, no matter what that person did to deserve it. I didn't know how vile it would feel to watch what I am now forced to watch.

Today, after Metsi is done with Levi, she turns to me with a cruel smile. "I have something to take care of, but since you are under contract to spend time with each of the princes, I'll leave you two alone to bond. Consider it quality time with this month's monster."

We are not left alone of course. Two armed guards are stationed on the other side of the door. But we are alone enough. More alone than we've been in a long time.

One of his eyes is swollen shut by an ugly bruise. His other eye is bloodshot. There are pieces of skin missing from his body, and burns that are festering. On the table next to him sits a variety of torture devices, as well as a cup of human blood, to help him heal in small increments, just enough to wound him again.

I don't think they've let him sleep since we've arrived, though he has likely passed out for short periods.

I have no idea what to say to him. I hate him. Loathe him. When I think of the things he's done to me, to my friends, to my people, I feel a ball of rage twisting in my gut, fighting for space with the inexplicable life that now grows inside of me. But seeing him suffer makes me want to help. To heal. To fix. Of course, I can't do that either. There's nothing I can do to ease his suffering, even if I wished to. So I sit. And wait.

"You're next," he says through a mouthful of blood.


"You're next. What they're doing to me, they'll do to you."

I shake my head. "They need me too much," I remind him. "They don't need you."

His lips curl up in a grotesque smile that's filled with cruelty even still. "They need what's in your womb, not you. "

"Pregnancies take time," I say. "I'll find a way out of this by then."

The first thing I did when I had a moment alone, right after my capture, was summon Fen with my blood and his demon mark. But if the magic worked—which is doubtful given the wards—he has not come. Or maybe can't come. I have no idea what became of him and the others once I was captured. I can only hope and pray they are safe. And Es and Pete, my god, I brought them into this messed up world and left them stranded here. And there's nothing I can do about any of it until I find a way to escape.

I place a hand on my stomach, something I've been doing a lot of lately. It's hard to think about this baby. To think that it belongs to me and Fen. In my world, I wouldn't even know I'm pregnant yet, but magic has perks, and one of them is apparently early pregnancy detection.

"You think I deserve this, don't you?" says Levi, his head hanging low, but eyes fixed on me. "You think this is justice?"

I don't say anything. I won't give him my pity.

"There was a time, you know," continues Levi, "a time when I was no danger to anyone. I was but a boy, bright and eager to learn. But the world took that boy and forged him into a harsh man. It didn't have to be that way, but it was." He pauses, glaring into the fireplace burning within the stones.

"I still remember, back in the Silver Gardens, back when mother and father still lived. I remember being lost. Younger than Niam and Zeb, but older than Dean, Ace and Asher. Somehow, my older brothers were praised for being wise and mature, my younger ones for being spirited and youthful, and yet I was not praised at all. I didn't let it deter me though, no, not at first. I took hard to my studies, excelling in my classes and impressing my tutors. I grew fond of smithing especially, and toiled long hours to perfect the craft. When testing came, I worked for weeks on a blade, pouring my ambitions and dreams into the steel. Gold it was, with a sapphire in the guard. Lightbringer, I called it. And when it was finally done, I took it to my father, eager to impress him for once. He glanced at the blade and laughed. 'Oh Levi, you couldn't possibly make such a blade,' he said. 'Tell me, who'd you steal it from?' I argued with him. Told him it truly was my work. But he just laughed once more and left for more important matters. I took the blade back to the forge then and bashed it until it shattered. I didn't forge again."

He turns his face back to me. "When the next testing came, I did as my father expected. I stole the project, a handmade cloak, from Ace and passed it off as my own. My father congratulated me more than he did before." He chuckles, then his eyes grow darker. "Ace and I fought after that, but not for long. He forgave me, though he had no reason. He just... did."

He pauses much longer this time.

I cross my arms. "So what? I'm supposed to forgive you? Is that the point of this story? Poor Levi had one bad thing happen to him, and instead of working harder to prove others wrong, he just did what they expected and turned bad? Well, boo hoo. We all have crap to deal with. At least you have brothers who care for you—"

"You think they care for me?" He flips back his head and laughs. "Really? You think Niam sides with me because he cares about poor old Levi? No, Princess. He sides with me because of the opportunities he sees for his own gain. The schemes he plots to undercut me. And who else do you think cares for me? Zeb, perhaps? Oh, no, Zeb does as he pleases, dear Princess. Sometimes he helps, and other times he stabs in the back. For centuries, he's darted back and forth between me and Asher, and he will flip sides once again. In fact... I'm not sure who he supports even now. Do you know, Princess? Are you sure?"

I stay silent, because he's not wrong. I don't know who Zeb supports. I don't even know if he voted for Fen and me to die, or if he tried to save us.

Levi grins at my silence, then continues. "And I hope you have no illusions about Asher and Fen. They despise me, I can assure you."

"Only because you've made it so," I say. "Only because you betray and hurt them every chance possible."

"Like when?" He looks up, as if he's trying to remember something. "Like when I witnessed the Presenting? The one Dean and Asher joined in as well? I understand it was hard for you, Princess, but you must understand such things are not rare in Inferna. Slaves are presented all the time, even free men sometimes, if they are looking for particular work. You may find the custom disgusting, but my brothers do not, I assure you. Well, perhaps save Fen. He is an odd one.

"Now, let me see, what else? Oh, perhaps I betrayed them when we went to battle with the Fae? No, wait. I don't believe that's right. I believe I fought at their side, while you hid the fact that you were the Midnight Star, the fact that you had returned the Druids from their slumber.

"Or perhaps you refer to the time when I threatened you. When I saw what you truly were, and I tried to end your life. When I tried to stop the war and save the lives of all in Inferna. Even the lives of innocent Fae.

"Or perhaps you refer to the time when I—along with five other Princes of Hell—sentenced you and Fen to death, the Midnight Star who brought ruin upon my people and the Earth Druid who had slain our father."

He pulls on his chains in rage. "I may have threatened you, Princess, hurt you even. But I have never betrayed my brothers."

I... I don't know what to say. He has hurt me, nearly killed me, and I always assumed he had done worse to others... but I have never seen him do harm to his brothers. Never even seen him act alone. I forget that Dean and Asher were part of the Presenting, even peripherally. I forget they were part of the Council who voted for my death.

This is a cruel world. I have let myself forget, but no longer. Before I came here, I had never killed anyone, never been taken captive or seen others tortured. Now I have endured all these things. And I know I will endure more.

Levi has done terrible things, but what of me?

I have killed.

I have lied.

I have ruined.

My very existence causes chaos and disorder. My very presence brings death and pain.

"There is a way to escape, you know," Levi whispers. "Quite simple, really."

"What? What do you mean?"

He adjusts his neck, twisting it to the side until the bones pop. "You let me feed on your blood. I will regain my strength. Then I can break these shackles with ease."

"And kill me," I say, backing away.

He smiles. "Kill you? True. I would. But you are not just you now, are you? I've heard of the babe you carry. My niece or nephew. The heir. What kind of uncle would I be if I killed the child? What kind of monster would I be?"

I shake my head, placing a protective hand on my belly. "You really expect me to believe that? That you care about my and Fen's baby?"

"Believe what you will." He shrugs. "The way I see it, I am your only option. Let me feed, and together we can escape. Don't, and you will remain a prisoner forever. That is, until your baby is born. And then what do you think will happen, Princess? Let me tell you. Metsi will cut your throat and take the babe as her own. She will teach the child to call her mother. And your precious babe will grow up just like her mommy Druid, demented, mad, a Fae who will not stop until every vampire and Shade is massacred. Is that want you want for your child? Is that the future you imagine?"

"Screw you," I say through gritted teeth. I'm not stupid. Of course I've considered that. But I will figure something out before that happens. I must.

He chuckles.

A part of his offer tempts me, but I would be a fool to take it. Even if he's not lying about protecting the baby, he has no reason to take me with him. He could flee on his own.

"There is one other way," says Levi. "You could..." He glances at the guards at the door and lowers his voice further. So quiet.

"What? How?" I lean closer to listen.

And then he grabs me.

His hand clutches my hair and yanks my head to his mouth. Before I can react, his lips brush my neck. His teeth sink into my skin.

I gasp as blood rushes out of me. I try to fight. Kick and scream. But already, he has grown stronger. He keeps a hold of me. Drinking. Drinking.


The guards.

They charge at Levi.

For a moment, he lets me go.

With bare hands, he tears the guards apart, their entrails exploding onto the walls. I fall to the ground. Weak. So weak. I try to stand. To crawl. I cannot.

And then Levi returns. To finish.

He grabs me by the neck. Bites down again.

I can't even scream this time.

He is draining me. Draining me completely.

I am fading. I am dying.

He never cared for the baby. He was lying all along. Of course, he would just kill me. With me gone, the Druids would have to return to slumber. Metsi's powers would fade. The war would be over. And Levi could escape with ease.

He is close now. Close to ending it all.

My vision blurs. My mind dims.

I place my hands on my belly. On my baby. And I think of Fen.

I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry to you both. You deserved a life together.

Someone rushes into the room. Water crashes into Levi, pushing him back.

But it is too late.

I am too far gone.

I close my eyes.

And I die.

Libre Baskerville
Gentium Book Basic
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