“How could you do this?” I slam Tallima back against the wall, keeping a sharp grip on the front of her shirt. “I trusted you! I thought you were more than one of the Queen’s little pets! You promised me! How could you betray me like this?!”
“Natalia, she made me!” Tallima insists, trying to pull free. I grip her tighter, pushing her harder against the wall.
“Liar!” I snarl, my face inches from hers. “What did she tell you this time? Was your friendship just an act? Was it all a lie, to find out what was happening between me and Kane? Your talks about love? Your brothers? Was that all a lie?!”
“Please, I swear I’d never betray you, but she forced me to. She said she’d execute you otherwise, but she decided that it would break Kane. I swear I didn’t want to hurt you, but she made me do it. Please, Natalia, I didn’t mean you any harm. I wasn’t lying, all of it was true. Please, you have to believe me, I didn’t want this to happen, any of this.”
I grit my teeth, reaching for my dagger. I’m not sure what I intend to do with it- I just know that right now I want to hurt her like she’s hurt me. I want to take this dagger to her heart and twist it- and show her how angry I am. Her eyes widen as she notices, and she frantically starts talking again.
“She’s trying to isolate you, like she’s trying to isolate Kane. The Queen doesn’t trust you, so she’s trying to break you! She’ll ruin you, Natalia. Please don’t let her. You’re a good person, she’ll destroy who you are. Please, she’s trying to make you hate me, so that I can’t help you. You’ve got to believe me, Natalia!” Tears are springing to her eyes, and suddenly I realize that Tallima- dark, ominous Tallima- is terrified. Scared that I’ll hurt her. Scared of being alone again. Scared of losing the friendship that she’d begun to develop with me.
Slowly, I let her go. “Find a way to make it up to me,” I whisper. “Find a way to fix what you’ve ruined. Then we’ll talk. Then maybe I’ll try and forgive you. But not before then. Do you understand?”
She nods hurriedly, pulling away from me, head down in shame. “I’m sorry, Natalia. I really am sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I’ll… I’ll try to figure out something.” Then she turns and runs, shame following her as she goes.
I look back towards the dungeon, back towards where Kane is, convinced that he is alone, convinced that everyone will betray him. I can’t explain it to him either. His bitterness will not allow for reasoning. His wounds go too deep to heal. There’s nothing I can do to help him, no matter how much I want to. And these wounds won’t heal with time.
The thought of Kane imprisoned here, alone and miserable, hurts me. The thought of the burning hatred in his eyes when the Queen came comes back to me. There was no surprise in that expression. He expected that I would betray him, and he still let himself become friends with me, on the off chance that just this once, a friendship could be anything real. And that was ruined for him, by a few words from the Queen.
A rush of hatred fills me. My vision glows red with unbridled fury. And for the first time, I dare to look at things from a different perspective.
The Queen is wrong. She takes and breaks anyone who stands in her way. She uses her servants like puppets to do her will. No one is safe from her reach. She will destroy all of us. One by one, she will gladly ruin us to get what she wants. She will deepen the cuts that have been given to Kane, just to make him weak. She will drive us apart to spite us. She is a cruel, horrible monster.
And I am one too.
That realization hits me like a ton of bricks- the solid impact, then the explosion of shards going straight to your head and heart.
Am I any better than the Queen? I may have done my best to be kind to Kane as of lately, but what about before? Didn’t I use him? Manipulate him? Promise that I would set him free, then chain him down? I’ve tortured Kane just as much as she has.
I stand there, frozen by shock. What have I done to him? I acted on the Queen’s orders, yes, but I enjoyed it. I knew I was hurting him, and I was happy about it. I have willingly hurt him. I laughed at his pain, and told him that he deserved it. I was cruel and cold to him. Why? How could I not see the pain I was causing? How could I enjoy something like that? And what had changed?
And yet, I know exactly what has changed. I have. I care about him. I… love him.
Suddenly, I realize that I am trapped. I cannot go back now. I cannot keep living this life. I cannot kill and torment in the name of the Queen. I can’t. I have chosen, and thrown my lot in with Kane. But for what? He’s imprisoned. I may be free, but I am no less trapped. If I try to resist, the Queen will kill me. I could run, but she will send the other Devias to hunt me to the ends of the earth. My own family and friends will be the ones forced to kill me. I cannot bring that upon them.
So what do I do?
Slowly, I force deep breaths. I’ll have to run. Yes, that’s what I must do. I must escape, and take Kane with me. I can still save him. We can run. I could find a place far away from the Queen. With him.
A thrill runs through me at that thought. Just me and Kane, away from the Queen, away from everything… why not?
I turn, and run towards the dungeon. I have to tell Kane this. I have to explain to him. I can make him trust me again. I can fix everything that the Queen has broken. I just need to talk to him.
I pause at the stairs leading down, and hesitate uncertainly, Kane’s ice cold hatred coming back to me in an instant. I will see him tonight. Tonight, when there will be less spying eyes. Today, I’ll prepare to leave. And tonight, I’ll disappear forever, and take Kane with me.