“You wouldn’t believe it,” I insist to Kane. He sits across from me, listening to my story with rapt attention. “One of the girls has this massive hangover- from a week ago!”
He laughs. “How much are you allowed to drink?”
I grin back. “As much as you can hold without throwing up. We’re pretty… resistant to alcohol. Not sure why. Just that we are. And then we have our constant training, so there’s that too.”
“What I don’t understand is why anybody would voluntarily drink that horrible stuff,” he points out. “It tastes like swamp water.”
“Have you ever-” I start.
It’s been almost a week since I brought Kane here. Slowly, I’ve managed to warm up to him, becoming more and more friendly as the days go by. This conversation- making him laugh- is the ultimate achievement so far.
“And how is your friend?” he asks. I told him about Tallima at some point, and he seems fascinated in her.
“She’s alright,” I shrug. “I’m the only one who knows that she’s really a good person. And everyone else just kind of avoids her.”
“And why haven’t you told anyone else?”
“First, they wouldn’t believe me. And second, rumors could spread. The Queen could get suspicious. And then, well… she could hurt Tallima. Or me, or anyone else.”
“She really loves control, doesn’t she?” he sighs. “Of you, of me, of everyone and everything she touches.”
“Yes, she does,” I admit. “But I won’t let her have this.”
“So she doesn’t know you’re coming to visit me?” he raises his eyebrows. “This isn’t a command of hers?”
“It was,” I admit. “But that was before I started really liking you. This is me now, Kane. This is us. This has nothing to do with the Queen. She doesn’t even know. The only people that know are you, me, and Tallima, and she promised she wouldn’t tell anyone. Don’t worry. She won’t find out.”
“You put a lot of trust in Tallima.”
“Of course I do. I’m her only friend. When someone only has one friend, and it’s you, you can count on them not to betray you.”
“Is that so?”
I spin, eyes widening in shock. The Queen stands outside the cell. And beside her, slightly behind, hiding in the shadows, is Tallima.
“Well done, Natalia,” the Queen smirks. “You’ve done exactly what I asked you to. You need not talk to this inventor anymore. Come here.”
I hesitate, and her eyes narrow. “Now.”
I stand, and walk to her, head down. Things are going too fast. I cannot fight her. I hear a soft intake of breath from Kane behind me, and know that he will not forget this insult. Ever. I want to tell him that it’s a lie- that I didn’t betray him- that I had no idea. But the words die on my tongue. I stay silent, as my mind whirls.
Tallima. That snake betrayed me! How could I have trusted her?! How could I be so stupid?!
The Queen puts a hand on my shoulder as I get out, and smirks at Kane. “Now you see? No one here is your friend. Her least of all. She was playing you to her favor. You are foolish and naive. Each new trick catches you easily. You cannot trust anyone. You cannot believe in anyone. No one is on your side.” She turns away, the damage done. “Come, Tallin.” Tallin winces, but obeys, following the Queen as she sweeps away, out of the dungeon.
I turn to look at Kane, the cold fury in his eyes hitting me like a physical blow. “Kane, I-”
“No,” he hisses, his voice cold and dead. “Don’t say anything. There’s nothing you can say. I should have learned the first time. I should have learned the second time. I will not let you get close to me again. You’re nothing but a poisonous viper, hissing sweet words in my ear so that you can get close enough to me to strike.”
“Kane, you have to understand! It wasn’t me! I wasn’t acting on the Queen’s orders! She’s lying to you!”
“And so are you. Don’t you understand, Natalia? I am alone. I always have been alone. It doesn’t matter what you say, in the end, everyone around me seeks to use me for one purpose or another. I cannot trust anyone. And I will not. Now get out of here. I can’t even stand to look at you anymore.”
I look into his eyes, and find nothing but hatred there. I feel tears coming to my eyes, then anger. I turn and run, bolting up the steps after the Queen.