“This looks bad.”
“I didn't kill those people,” I state.
Sinclair nods, “Sir I can testify that Santos left the room not too long before it was reported. I don't think he would have had time to kill them.”
“I'm not saying Santos did it,” Nero explains, “I'm just saying what it looks like. This just doesn't look good.”
We are standing in the room. I've gathered the only people I can trust even a little bit. Nero and Coco. Sinclair is just there by default.
“Kill the witnesses,” Coco states.
“We aren't killing the cleaning crew,” I state.
“Then tell me who they are and I'll kill them,” Coco explains, “You aren't the only one who has something to lose if you get buried alive again.”
“Santos is right. I'd never do something so crazy Coco. You've lost your mind,” Nero responds, “They are innocents.”
“Still...this is the worst case scenario,” I explain.
“Who could have killed them?” Nero asks, “Who would have wanted to kill Arie---besides you?”
“He's missing,” Nero states at that moment.
I'm not surprised. Armando did what he did and he ran off.
“Listen Armando is up to something,” I explain, “I believe he wants to help me. He thinks that destroying the Lucky one ring will do it.”
“What will it do? What will destroying the Lucky One do?” Coco asks me.
I shake my head, “It'll let the darkness in. It'll let Lilith in.”
“Maybe it's about time you do let her in,” Coco explains shaking her head, “Maybe people will get a little scared of you then.”
I look at Coco. She sounds like a fucking lunatic when she says things like that. She's pregnant now so I know she has something to lose. It's clear. I had something to lose to clearly but power wasn't everything.
Coco was clueless. She had no idea what allowing my mother into Eden would do. If she knew she wouldn't be making such a stupid comment.
My mother wasn't coming into Eden to talk. She was coming into Eden to kill.
I could feel her intentions.
“What are you saying?” I ask.
“I'm saying that once news gets out that you killed King Arie...you're a dead man,” Coco explains, “People won't take the chance. And if King Nero tries to stop them this time...”
She pauses because Nero is in the room. Nero is looking down. He's deep in thought. I wonder what is on her mind. She doesn't want to put the thought in his head but there is no denying that is what's going to happen.
“If Nero tries to stop them, they'll turn on him,” I state.
“Everyone will. There won't be any hiding this time Santos. There won't be any propoganda. If news gets out that Arie is dead and you were disovered at the scene you're dead. Whether you like it or not. We have to act. We have to do something.”
“Everything you're suggesting is desperate Coco.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
It's Nero who stops Coco's madness with by clearing his throat and glaring, “Let's get married tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” I ask.
“They can't come at you. Remember when we were kids...you hit me?” Nero asks me.
“Yeah. I got in trouble for it.”
“Exactly it's against the law to hit a royal. So marry me tomorrow. Let's speed up this process. Let's cut out the middle man. Let's make sure that they can't hurt you no matter what. Let's make sure that we have a backup. They won't hurt you. Not if you're my husband. They can't come hurt you.”
Nero sounds just as desperate as Coco.
Coco is shaking her head, “I like it.”
They both look at me. They are both surveying my face. I don't feel right. Rushing into marriage without a proper engagement because I was scared of the people of the country that I was going to be ruling over didn't seem right.
“They'll still find out maybe even before tomorrow,” I state.
“Then tonight,” Nero states.
“That's not enough time.”
“We don't have any choice.”
“Nero whose to say they will obey the laws. If people think I killed Arie they are going to come after me. Period.”
“I'll take the risk,” Nero tells me, “Will you?”
The question is something that seems to jam into my heart and turn. I'm nervous. I'm more than nervous actually. I'm fucking sweating. The idea that by tonight I'd be Nero's husband was something that I wasn't expecting.
I'm scared. My heart has risen to my mouth. I'm tripping to speak.
That's when I see Nero's face. He looks dead at me. Those silver eyes pierce into me. And that's when I realize I don't need any support of the people. I don't need the love of the people. This man looking back at me loved me.
I don't need anything but Nero.
He grabs my hand and he's so...soft. He's so loving. It's a real love here.
“Tonight you're mine,” he tells me and adds, “No one's going to stop us.”
The day is turning quickly.
“I would have gotten you something custom made,” Lucca tells me, “But no one has ever seen this outfit. It came from the human world.”
“You don't think this is a little too much?”
“No. It's dramatic,” Lucca states.
“I don't know.”
“It's symbolic,” Lucca tells me, “Nero picked it out himself. He said it reminded you of him.”
“A raven. It's vampiric,” Camilla adds.
“It's perfect,” Coco states.
A raven. My wedding suit was a robe. Black wings dangle from the shoulders. The long feathers are plaid together and truffle out to the ground. There is a glittery sheen on it all. The train is long, dragging out 10 feet away from me. All black. All long. All beautiful. The biggest train I've ever seen in my life. And it's shines. It glitters. I don't know the source of the brightness but I'm glowing. The three of them are staring at me as I stare in the mirror. The reflection in the mirror looks back at me and I don't even recognize this person.
“Aiden will eat his heart out,” Camilla replies.
“Is he's going to the wedding.”
“Everyone is going to be there?”
My heart is racing, “Coco. Have you heard about if people know about what happened as of yet?”
Coco nods, “Don't worry about that. Today is your day. Don't worry about anything else. Just look forward. Just smile.”
I'm breathing heavy. As I look in my reflection I see this person that looks so powerful. However I feel so fucking weak as I look back at it. I'm scared as fuck.
There is a knock on the door at my door at that moment. I walk over to the door and open it. It's Nero that's stranding there. He has on a tuxedo, black tuxedo and a crown made of black feathers that matches my own outfit.
“You look...amazing,” Nero states.
He stares at me for a moment. The way he looks at me, it makes me feel like I'm the only person in the world. It's almost as though I'm his oxygen and at this right moment I'm staring at him watching him breathe me in. His lungs exhale me in. I'm giving him his life and I love every moment of him seeing me at that moment.
It's Coco who pulls me away.
“You're not supposed to see each other before the wedding. It's bad luck,” Coco explains to him.
“I came to warn him,” Nero explains.
“News just broke about the marriage. Milan leaked it to the media. And right now as we speak the cleaning crew that found Arie's body is telling Vigorosa live on television what they saw. There's already people gathering out front.”
My heart is racing.
“This is bad,” Coco explains.
It's more than that. This was the worse.
“Should we cancel...postpone?” I ask.
“It's now or never,” Nero explains to me, “You need to understand that. Roxanne will be forced to act unless you are King next to me. She has to file papers in order to press murder charges against you. You have to come with me now.”
“King Nero, with all due respect...we need to follow tradition. You need to go to the cathedral and we'll bring Santos there to meet you,” Lucca says.
“It's across town, I'm not leaving him.”
“We'll bring him to you...” Lucca promises.
“And you expect me to trust you?”
“Nero. I'm Ok. I'll make it. Go ahead. I'm coming.”
Nero shakes his head. He looks nervous. I'm not going to lie and say that I'm not nervous too. Truth is I'm beyond nervous. Truth is I feel like as soon as I leave this building I'm going to be attacked. I think we are all thinking the same thing.
Nero looks over me, “Listen. I have guards. All my king's guard will make sure you get to that cathedral. You hear me? Nothing's going to stop us. You hear me?”
He grabs onto my hand.
“Nothing's going to stop us,” I state.
Nero takes a deep breath. I wonder if he's trying to convince me of that or if he's going to convince himself. He's afraid. I can see it. He's more afraid than I actually am. The deep tension of this all is getting to him. We've been here before. We've seen this before and it didn't end well.
That's why when he gives me a slight smile I see right through it, “I love you. I'll be waiting for you on the aisle.”
With that Nero turns and leaves.
“Are you ready sir?” Sinclair asks me.
“Nero sent you?”
“He wanted to make sure you got to the cathedral,” Sinclair states.
Nero sent his best man. It seems to make me even more nervous as I walk into the hallway.
“One second Sinclair,” I state.
I go to my window. The black rose that Justice gave me is sitting there on the still. I grab the rose. I hold it in my hand. After all this time the rose is finally dying.
It's finally dying.
I hold the rose in my hand and follow Sinclair. When I get into the hallway I see 10 guards on each side of the hallway. They all look at me at that moment. I'm facing the window as the guards each look at me. Their eyes are burning into me. They don't trust me. They must have heard about Arie. They must have gone back to suspecting me.
One day I'm loved.
The next day I'm hated.
That's how it was in Eden.
“Let's move quickly, Sinclair,” Coco explains, “Your future king has a schedule to keep.”
“Right this way sir.”
We are walking down the hallway at that moment down towards where the car escorts will lead me over to the cathedral. I can hear something outside. It isn't until I walk past a window that I realize exactly what's going on. Camilla and Lucca follow several feet behind carrying my train and making sure that it doesn't trail the floor too much until we get to the cathedral. Coco is at my side along with Sinclair. Ahead of me are the guards.
It seems as though all of Eden is outside...protesting me. Protesting this marriage.
Sinclair walks out first.
The doors open.
Just as I take a step outside I hear a scream, “MURDERER!”
I don't know where the vampire comes from but he glides through the air. He has a stake in his hand! I can barely move out of the way with the heavy garments I'm pulling with me. The guards are struggling to keep other people back.
I catch the man with my hand. I can feel how light he feels in my hands. He raises his stake ready to stab me but I have a hold of his throat!
I push him to the ground as hard as I can.
I hear his back his the ground.
It's Coco who runs forward with her on stake. She drives the stake into the vampire's heart and he disintegrates into nothingness. Blood flashes all over her face but Coco doesn't seem the least bit moved by it.
She gives Sinclair a hard stare, “MOVE!”
Sinclair seems shocked the man got past his security. I'm not shocked. We are surrounded. The guards quickly try to part the protestors. There are hundreds of them outside my building. Hundreds of people that want to hate me. Hundreds of people are standing there watching me wand wanting to stop my marriage.
The guards seem to be on more guard. More attacks come out of no where. Three men get through. Sinclair and his men stop them, shooting them with bullets before they get close to me.
Sinclair himself his arm over me pulling me through the crowd.
I hear the chants.
“MURDERER! MURDERER! DARKEST! DARKEST!”
“Just keep looking straight,” Coco is telling me.
My heart is racing. I watch one man get past one of Sinclair's mans. He comes at me with a butcher knife slashing wildly making a clean swipe to my face! He's close! He's super fucking close. I fall back and trip on the ground at that moment. He takes another swipe at me but Sinclair comes up behind the guy, grapples his throat and stabs his in his chest.
“Are you ok sir?”
“We have to keep moving!” Coco states.
I'm on the ground now after dodging the man. I'm breathing heavy. What's the point? What's the point of ruling over people who hated me this much. Random people I never liked a day in my life hated me so much that they wanted to kill me. I look at the ground.
Then I think of him.
Nero's waiting for me.
I can't give up. I can't roll over. So I get back up.
“We're almost there sir,” I hear Sinclair state.
The shouts are getting louder. The people are getting angrier. We manage to get to the cars though. I'm not sure how it's possible. The people out here are like a wave. There is a wave of hatred all around me. I turn to my right. Camilla is crying.
Lucca and Camilla are in the car with me but they aren't saying anything. They silently just stare out. They don't say anything. They don't say a goddam thing.
“I didn't know it was so bad. I never saw anything like this,” Camilla is stating.
She's really crying because of me. It's crazy that it took her all this time to feel bad for me. All this time and she's finally feeling bad for me?
I shake my head and refuse her emotion, “This is no time to cry. This is a time to celebrate...”
“How can you say that?” Lucca asks, “Didn't you hear those people out there? They want you dead. They hate you. How can you get up and keep going after that.”
“100 years ago Nero asked me to marry him,” I stated, “I never got to. I'm not going to ever put my happiness aside again. You hear me. I'm going to live for now and not wait one more minute. 100 years was long enough. Not one minute longer.”
I stare out ahead as the car moves across Eden.
The people on the streets bang on the windows of the car. Each moment scares the living shit out of me. They hit the window. They spit on the glass. They curse. They scream.
I look ahead.
“The story of my life,” I say.
“You're a better man than me,” Coco says, “I'd burn this whole fucking place down.”
“Look. The Cathedral...” I state, “No reason to be upset. I'm happy.”
“Why do I have the feeling it's not over.”
“It isn't,” I respond.
We both know that.
“You're not alone,” Coco tells me, “You know that don't you?”
“I just wish Armando was here,” I explain at that moment, “I wish he was there to be the father I wanted. I wish he was there at my wedding.”
“He'd never support this. You know that.”
I shake my head. She's right. Armando didn't want me with Nero. He didn't want me happy. He wanted me angry. He wanted me dangerous.
We are pulling up to the cathedral now. There are more guards but out of no where we see this wave of men in white approaching. The look on their faces make me know they just aren't regular protestors. These people have a calculated intention.
“What the fuck is that...” Lucca asks.
“It's a fucking army.”
Sinclair shakes his head, “Shit. It's Milan.”
I should have known that Milan wasn't going to just fold. We get out of the car and realize that these men in white are all being led by Milan and they are all being led by me. The cathedral is still quite a while walk away. The protestors however have faded to the background behind these men in white. I count them. There has to be at least 50 of these men. They are the remainder of the men who followed Arie.
“Hand him over Sinclair,” Milan tells Sinclair.
Milan doesn't even look at me when he demands Sinclair to hand me over. The look on their eyes is clear that the are going to kill me if Sinclair and his man stand away. We are outnumbered though. We are outnumbered by these men. The other King's Guards are protecting the cathedral. I'm completely vulnerable here.
“I can't do that.”
“You don't have a choice.”
“My king gave me an order,” Sinclair states, “I'm supposed to bring his future husband to him. I plan on doing that Milan.”
“You're going to die following the rule of an unjust king,” Milan states.
“Do you hate me so bad?” I ask.
“Worse,” Milan tells me, “Why should I let you be happy? You killed the only man that I loved. Or did you forget that little fact? You're a monster. History will remember me as a hero.”
“History won't remember you fool,” Coco tells Milan, “You're yet to even make a fucking mark. You're so desperate for revenge that you don't see that Santos is no threat to you.”
“Milan back down,” Lucca says.
“Shut the fuck up. Traitors,” Milan says, “All of you walk away or you'll end up dead.”
I look at Lucca, Camilla and Coco. I don't trust that they'll stand up for me. In all honesty I have the feeling that they'll back down. They don't though. I'm shocked when they don't leave me. Maybe they still feel bad for me. Maybe they feel bad for leaving me 100 years ago to fend for myself.
I don't know the reason that they don't leave but for the first time in forever I feel as though I”m not alone.
I have this feeling that I'm not alone.
“Do you feel that?” I ask.
Something is here. Something is coming. I don't know why I feel it but I do. I feel it in my fingers. It's the same feeling that you get when you drag you feet across carpet and dry to flick a light switch. There is a sharp tingling.
“Attack them,” Milan orders his men.
“Do you feel that?” I ask again.
No one is listening. They don't hear me.
But I hear it.
No I see it.
All of a sudden the red sky is blotted out by something. I look up in the sky. The others don't notice until I point. This storm is coming towards me.
I don't know what it is.
Then I see.
“Thirsts...” Coco states.
It's not one or two Thirsts. My mouth drops when I see what is happening. There are dozens of these flying beasts in the sky and they are descending.
The beasts come down like a wave but they seem to completely ignore Sinclair and his men. The beasts swoop down, screaming and tearing through the crowd. The Thirsts are attacking the men in white. They grab at them.
Milan is standing there speechless at the Thirsts attack his people.
“You're doing this,” he tells me.
He's wrong. I have nothing to do with this. I'm just as shocked as he is that the Thirsts are attacking his people. More and more of his men are killed. The men could care less about me. They panic. Everyone is scattering.
Sinclair grabs Milan, wrestling him to the ground at that moment to secure him. His other men are being chased away from the thirsts.
And in the distance I see Armando.
My father is standing there.
“It was you.”
Armando nods and offers me his hand. I look at it for a minute. I'm scared of it. What the fuck is he doing here? What the fuck is he doing here?
“I've been watching you,” Armando states, “I saw you fall. I saw you get up. You'd think something so small wouldn't matter you know.”
He's been watching me?
“What are you talking about?”
“You really want this. You aren't going to change your mind aren't you. You aren't going to let her in are you?” Armando asks.
He is squinting at me. He isn't asking but more coming to a realization. I can hear it in his tone. Armando's stubbornness is shaking. For the first time in a long time I'm looking back at him and I see my protective father give me an almost loving look. I look at Armando and I know that he sent these Thirsts. Somehow he had the ability to control them.
“I don't plan on leaving Nero. I love him Armando,” I state.
The others are looking at Armando.
“We should arrest him,” Sinclair tells me.
Sinclair is right.
“If any of you fuckers touch me I'll break your fingers off,” Armando states.
Sinclair doesn't move. His men look like they want to but I think something makes them hesitate. They are thinking about it but they see the Thirsts are still circling around the sky causing mayhem. How hard would it be for Armando to call them down if Armando really control them. Still Armando was a criminal. He was the cause of all of this. Regardless of if he did it for me or not.
“Armando...father,” I say at that moment.
I'm trying to calm him down at that moment.
“Relax. I'll turn myself in. On my own time,” Armando states between his cold pursed lips but then he softens up just a little bit, “I'll turn my self in right after I make sure that this King that you're so in love with is going to actually take care of you.”
“You're going to attend my wedding.”
He's deeply hurt.
“These people hurt you but if you believe that he won't hurt you again. If you believe that he'll protect you from them then I'll trust him with you,” Armando states, “So I'm telling you. I'll give you away at your wedding. If you'll have me. I'll do that. For you...”
Armando offers me his hand.
And I take it.
“Look how they stare at you,” Armando whispers in my ear, “You're better than all of them. That's why they are so afraid of you. You've give them something to fear.”
“You see this flower Armando?”
“What about it?”
“Take it. Sometimes you have to just let things go. It's a reminder that you can get old. Everything has to die. All hatred has to die. Don't be so immortal. Learn to let go.”
I hand my father the flower. He doesn't say anything. He just cups my arm with his own and we make our way down the aisle. The music is playing.
They are looking at me as though I'm a dark wonder as I walk down the aisle. Slow music. I see Nero standing there at the front of the aisle. He's staring at me. All the shit that could have stopped me and I persisted.
They threw everything at me and I persisted.
I was walking down this aisle and I was ready to marry the man I loved.
“I'm so happy,” I hear him say.
He's standing at the front. Coco is there. She is the ring bearer. She has the Lucky One in a box. Roxanne is the one ready to read us our marriage rights. The crowd is full of nobles. Many of them have heard that Arie was dead. Many of them suspect I had something to do with it. Many of them hate me but none of them are able to do a damn thing.
I look out in the crowd. Aiden is sitting there. I can't read his face. He doesn't say anything. He just stares out. His brother has been detained and arrested somewhere. I kind of wonder why Aiden wasn't leading this charge with his brother. Had he finally given up or was he just waiting for another opportunity?
Lucca and Camilla are seated in the front rows with the Counts and Countesses.
Then I look at Nero.
Beautiful. He stands there. I'm ready to make this man my husband. I've never seen something that I loved so much. He stands there with a smile and regardless of what happened today I know that this is the happiest day of my fucking life. Regardless it's the happiest day of my fucking life. I'm smiling so fucking hard as Nero grabs a hold of my hand.
My father leans into him. He whispers something to Nero. I'm not sure what Armando says to Nero. Nero stares at him as though contemplating something but he just stares out.
The room is so quiet soon when everything starts. I can't believe this is happening. Nero is crying. He has tears in his eyes but he's smiling as well. He's happy. I want to have that same type of emotion but instead I'm just staring at him shocked that this is really happening.
““Dearly Beloveds and Honored Guests...” Roxanne begins.
The doors open and I'm shocked by it. It breaks the silence of the room. The noble guests turn wondering if this is some type of protestor that got past the guards.
That's not the case.
I stare at the person who walks into the room.
“You forgot one guest.”
My mouth drops.
“Justice!” I state.
I am so excited that I damn near run across the room. I look over at him and he's there. He's really fucking there. People are more than shocked. People are whispering among each other. It's shocking that he's showed up now of all times. He's showed up at my wedding and he looks well. He doesn't have a single scratch on him.
I wonder where the fuck he's been and if I was smart I would have brought it up but I'm not. I'm happy to see him and so is his father.
“Oh my god,” Nero states.
Nero starts crossing the room. His son that we thought was killed by a Thirst wasn't. I had said it myself. I look over at Armando. He lowers his head at that moment as though disgusted with himself.
I guess it doesn't matter.
“GO to him,” I tell Nero.
I tell him this because I knew it was important that he showed Justice he loved him. After all this time they weren't like father and son. Instead of being like father and son they competed with one another. It was important that Nero be the one to go to him.
Nero seems heavy on his feet. It's like he doesn't quite know how to fully love his son but he pushes past it. He turns pausing the wedding and makes his way to Justice.
“Justice...” Nero states.
It's perfect. It's fucking perfect.
But for some reason I look over at Armando. He has this rose in his hand and right while it's in his hand Armando crumbles up the rose. He doesn't wait for the rose to die. He just...crumbles it up and Armando throws it on the floor. He squashes it underneath his feet.
And I know...something is wrong.
“Nero...nero wait...” I try to stop Nero.
The world stops.
There is a darkness that I don't get.
Nero is leaning over to embrace Justice. He's about to give Justice a huge. Justice leans in as though he is about to hug him, but Justice doesn't hug his father. He has a stake in his hand.
I don't know who screams at first. The scream is piercing.
Then I see it. Justice the drives that stake as deep into Justice!
And I'm unable to stop him. I get across the room and hit Justice so hard he flies across the room but I'm too late. The piece of wood is lodged into NERO!
And everyone is on their feet. Everyone is looking down. ALL OF THESE PEOPLE are just watching. They aren't even watching Nero. They are just WATCHING! WAITING FOR HIM TO DIE!”
“NO!” I hear a voice scream again.
That's when I look across the room. And I look at Coco and I see her panicking. If Nero dies...I'm dead. Her baby would probably be next. They are that scared of Lilith's bloodline. Our enemies would kill us if Nero dies and she knows that. Maybe that's why when she holds up the Lucky One I know she wants me to destroy it.
She wants me to destroy it.
But then I come to the realization.
Coco doesn't need me to destroy it.
As Nero is in my arms dying Coco takes the ring in her hand and she smashes with her heel as hard as she can.
She didn't need me to destroy it because she had Lilith's blood in her. Our child. Only someone with Lilith's blood could destroy that ring.
“Coco...what have you done?” I ask.
It's pointless to even ask. The room gets dark. The windows get dark. The red sky has finally changed colors. It's now black. It's the night. It's the true black night that I haven't seen in more than 100 years.
What's the point?
Nero was dying. Maybe Coco was right to panic. Maybe she was right to do what she did.
There is a cold in the air. We can see it.
I watch as people trip over each other getting away from the door. Panic takes over. The last thing they care about is their dying king. They can feel it. We can all feel it. We can all feel that she's here. The cold air. The black sky with no stares.
The darkness is here.
Lilith is finally in Eden.
To read the next chapter go to www.crushedcrown.com