"Your wings are growing in," she states.
I look at my back and realize slits in my back. Tiny shimmering motorized wings have begun to form. My nut-brown skin, and hair so deep purple it matched the velvety night sky. My face had become somehow freckled like the stars in that sky as well. My long thin fingers, elegant neck were all so proud but what shocked me most was this face I didn't recognize. This face had a determined look that I'd never had before.
It was the night of Titania's party and I was dressed in lycra jumpsuit with armor plating in places.
Aunt Willow has managed to get in my room. I know it's because my beloved husband has taken the lock off of the door. I haven't seen him in quite some time. He's gathering his defenses for Titania's party.
"You know what my husband has planned tonight?" I ask Aunt Willow.
"You know what your enemies have planned tonight?" she asks in return.
"An eye for an eye."
Aunt Willow shakes her head, "I am a servant of the Winter Court. Anyone outside of that door is an enemy..."
"Dino is innocent."
Aunt Willow's face gets extreme, "ANYONE outside of that door is an enemy. Once I see you on the other side of that door, all bets are off. Summer is almost over if you haven't noticed. And the Fall is coming. It's going to start getting cold outside."
She raised Dino. She raised Dino in the same way that she raised me. Maybe she was tied to her master like all the other human slaves in the Autumn Court. The binding was done with fairy dust. Magic so powerful it was unbreakable. But no dust was forcing her to speak so nonchalantly of a child that she once loved. No dust is making her so cold. She is doing that herself.
"It will not be today, Willow," I state, "But there will be a time you need the love of someone you considered. There will be a time you want mercy. The same kind of that an innocent person like Dino should have right now. And I won't be there for you. You'll be on the other side of that door and it will be Winter then. Not fall. And it'll be colder on the other side of that door than you could ever imagine."
She could care less about my threat. Right now it means nothing to her. Her master held all the cards. I had made Dorian powerful again. I had given him the respect he deserved and by doing so had been reduced to nothing more than a figurehead.
"You should get ready. Titania's party is about to begin," Aunt Willow tells me walking away without another word.
We arrive at the party at night separately. Of course the carriage opens and it's the Autumn slaves who open it for me. They were all the same. Humans with a blankness to their eyes. They never stared at me directly. They never spoke. They didn't gossip like the humans who served the Summer and Spring Fairies. The Autumn Court servants had a desperate look in their eyes. One that scared me half to death when I saw it.
They gather me up like a prized pig and escort me to their master. He's standing there dressed more like he's going to war than a party. He wasn't alone. All the darker Fall fairies had gathered at the exits silently finding strength in numbers, I suppose. They had their shining armor and the most glorious stubbornness in their eyes. That's the only way to describe the Fall fairies. Stubborn, cold and completely unattached. I remember hearing stories about them in the outskirts. And so we never saw them as mortal men, to us they were as gods, the ones who took the tongues of tyranny and rammed them back down our throats.
And I wonder now...
Am I one of them?
"Dazzling," he states, "You are going to be the life of the party. Hold my hand."
I look at Dorian and don't move. The other Fall fairies watch silently. Again, there was no gossiping here. No side comments. But they had opinions. Powerful opinions and right now they seem to be watching desperately in a judgmental way. But not me.
They were judging Dorian.
I don't hold his hand. I just walk forward.
"I can walk on my own."
Over the lycra jumpsuit, I have a sequin jacket.
The luxe piece is actually more like a robe, drenched
in silver sequins with large open front and patch pockets. I am the
only bit of brightness in the sea of dark Fall greys and blacks of the Autumn
Court. And right then and right there I answer my own question
Was I one of them? No. We may all be Unseelie but I was a Winter Fairy. The last Winter Fairy.
We are escorted into the party.
The ceiling must be twenty feet high. Designs of fruit and flowers are carved into the molding. Big rich fat fairies with wings are gossiping from every angle. Vases of blossoms give off a cloying scent that makes my eyes itch.
The music was so loud that it made my skin tingle and my lungs feel like mush. The bass thumped in time with my heartbeat as though they were one, filling me from head to toe with music.
"The Kings of the Autumn and Winter Court," the loud announcement comes on the speakers.
Over the roar of music, a distant, hazy chatter could be heard. I couldn't make out any words, but a suspicious odd hush rang in my ears and wouldn't seem to stop. People had noticed me walk in and like Dorian said...all eyes were on me.
That's when I feel his arm scaling over me as though trying to give me his armor.
"Don't ever embarrass me by walking away like that again."
"Scared your court will think there's trouble in paradise?" I whisper back to Dorian, "Scared they might leave you again?"
I expect Dorian to sulk in his anger silently. That's something that Dorian would do. But when I look at him I can tell that there is no part of him that wants to be silent. Maybe he feels empowered by the fact that the Fall Court had grown from nothing into the second most powerful court in the Seasonal Courts in no time. Or maybe he feels desperate.
His talking gets sharper though. He doesn't lean in but steps in front of me.
"Look around you," Dorian instructs me, "What do you see?"
"That's not what this is," he states, "This is a war. Sure it's not on a battlefield. But this is a war, don't get that twisted for a moment. And it's just as dangerous as a battlefield out there. If you want a chance to survive you are going to do exactly what I say?"
"Yes. Because I have men. I have the guards. You leave my side at this party and I might just let the snakes in here swallow you whole. Or...you can be my obedient husband. Do what I say. And who knows? I might give you a snake to swallow tonight," He says.
That's when Dorian walks towards me. He grabs me, viciously sending his tongue down my throat in a controlling way and then aggressively grabbing my hand and placing it on his crotch. Dorian wants me to feel the heaviness of his dick. He wants me to feel how thick it is. He wants me to feel how powerful he is and remind me of how he almost paralyzed me through our marathon of fucking after our marriage day. He wants to control me. He always did. That's why he didn't want me to move back to the Winter Hall. That's why he wanted Dino gone. So I could have nothing else and no one else...but him.
And I recognized that now.
"My lords----" a voice states, "Thank you so much for coming."
It's Solaris. He has a smile on his face. One thing I notice however is how he bows. He grabs my hand and kisses it smoothly. That wasn't all he did. In the next seconds, he bows to me.
"Funny how the tables turn," I realize how low he gets.
"This is how one formally greets a great king," Solaris responds.
He's ass-kissing. Solaris. The guy who couldn't go a few seconds without slapping me in the head for doing something wrong when I was serving him. Now he knew what I was and he was literally cowering at my feet. He had gotten in front of us in record time. And he wasn't the only one. There were other fairies. Other fairies from the other side who were desperately smiling at me now trying to get my attention in ways that they never used to before.
Dorian is suspicious of it all and doesn't shy away from speaking on it, "I would assume Titania would be the one greeting us. It's her party ----is it not?"
Solaris seems somewhat annoyed and for a minute I can't tell why until he responds.
"Titania is problematic," Solaris states, "The disrespect she had towards King Midnight----my goodness. Inexcusable."
"Disrespect?" I ask, "You mean killing my entire family at her last party?'
Solaris gets uncomfortable by the thought. I guess to them that was merely `disrespectful' or at least that's what they wanted to call it. I doubt they were complaining when Titania murdered their enemies for them back then. Now all of a sudden she was problematic.
"I assure you Titania acted on her own and we will deliver you justice if you require," Solaris states.
"Is that what you're going to do?"
"I'm hoping that we can start over. Your nephew is a Summer Fairy. We already have kin in common. Imagine how powerful we would be. The true enemy isn't even here. It's those sniveling Spring Fairies. They started all this mess. I want to do anything to correct this."
"Anything?" I ask.
"Midnight----" Dorian tries to interrupt.
I ignore him and look at Solaris. All of a sudden, I can't help but remember how he treated me. I can't help but remember how he treated Aaliyah when she was murdered. All of a sudden, I mattered to him because of who I was but the humans...they were treated like shit.
"Beg for my forgiveness," I tell Solaris.
Solaris looks around as people are watching how he deals with this situation. He looks nervous. If the sweat beads trickling down his forehead doesn't give him away then perhaps it's the way he shuffles backward as though I hit him with a mallet.
"Wh---what?" is his response.
"Beg for my forgiveness," I repeat and with the good measure I add, "Slave."
And it's petty. Perhaps I did it because it felt good to see his reaction. It felt good to embarrass Solaris as he did me so many times. It felt good to see him grovel.
Solaris steadies himself giving a harsh threatening stare to the people behind him who clearly find it either amusing or ridiculous how he has presented himself tonight in front of his enemies.
Now that groveling didn't work he clearly seems to want to pick up his pride or whatever fragments he had left of it before giving me the nastiest look and deepening his voice to say, "Fine. If you don't want to do it my way...we'll do Titania's way..."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Dorian asks.
Solaris doesn't respond. He walks off clearly too self-conscious to engage in any more dialogue with Unseelies like us.
I say it loudly. Loud enough that everyone paying attention can hear it. And there are A LOT of people paying attention. People from the Fall fairies to the stuffed up Summer Fairies. They all were paying very close attention.
We are left alone again and that's when Dorian tries to kiss me again. When he fails to get close this time he whispers in my ear, "That made me so hot what you did just now. Dammit, I'm dripping with cum in my pants for you. I love you, Midnight."
"Wish I could say the same."
"The time will come. I promise you. I'll win you over."
"Where are you going?" Dorian asks.
I've already begun walking away.
"Taking my chances amongst the snakes you were so sure would be able to swallow me," I respond.
Dorian does something odd at that moment. He smirks somehow with a grimace on his face. His face looks all confused. As though he wants to be mad but is struggling with the fact that my disobedience is turning him on.
The song that was playing got louder, pulling me in and wouldn't let go. I had no choice but to join the crowd, jumping in a huddled group like Tic-Tacs being shaken in a box.
I engage moving through and that's when I feel a hand grab me. For a moment I panic understanding that I am alone but then I notice the smell of the person first.
I don't know why he makes me so nervous.
"Dance with me?"
I want to refuse. It wasn't a good idea. I knew what he was tasked to do tonight. I had promised myself to stay clear of him and not give him the intention to do what he had to do. But I knew I couldn't resist. Perhaps that was the issue with Paris. I could never resist.
It's a slow dance. I don't know what I'm doing but it's OK because he wraps his arm around me and takes me with him. I feel less masculine by how he guides me pressing his hands on the smalls of my back and swirling me around. The dance floor is crowded with costumes and personas but I feel alone with him. Then he looks at me with those eyes. Fuck.
"You're the most beautiful thing in here," he assures me as though he can read my mind about how insecure I feel, "You look just like your mother. There are stories about her. Stories from the archives. She could walk into the room and not say a word the entire night but be the talk of the event. Dazzling with her crystals, her metallics, and her purple hair."
"You read about her?"
"I read about your entire family. Including our sister who single-handedly started the first civil war because she refused to marry Dorian."
"I wished I was strong enough to do the same," I admit.
He looks at me. Fuck. The way he looks at me drives me crazy. How warm he is is driving me crazy. I don't know how I feel so comfortable but to lean my head up against his chest at that moment. He was my enemy. I knew it. He knew it.
"I wish for a lot of things. You want to know a secret?" he asks.
"Dust can grant a wish. Some say if you have enough pure dust...you can even bring someone back to life."
"How much is enough?" I ask.
He looks around my neck, "You brought it with you?"
I nod, "Yeah."
"Good. Don't go anywhere without it. You have the last pure dust left in the world. The rest of it was stolen by the Spring fairies off your dead sister."
"Speaking of the Spring fairies are you and him..."
Paris knows what I'm asking. He shakes his head.
"No. I divorced him. I never loved him. It was all a plot to----" he stops talking.
"To kill him. Because you thought he was Midnight and you were bound to kill Midnight," I state.
It gets awkward. I know he doesn't want it to be.
"Can we just ----not think about that now?" he asks, "Can we not talk about it."
"Because I don't want this dance to ever end," he states, "It seems like in this world the only thing you want is the only thing that you can't have."
I look at him hard, "What is it that you want?"
"Isn't it clear?"
There is a soft awkwardness. I hadn't realized this but we weren't on the ground anymore. We were in the air. Flying high into the air. We weren't the only ones. Other fairies who were dancing had taken to flying as well. Paris isn't panicking. Seems like it was all part of the dance. Our wings knew what to do...even my young immature wings who hadn't even grown fully. The motorized wings buzz me into the air keeping me safe and secure.
It felt like magic.
"I read about you too, last night," I state, "Seems like now that I'm a King, I can access the archives."
He looks embarrassed, "I'm no one."
"That's a lie. The prince had been born on a starlit night, amid the warmth of late summer. Some say it became part of him, that brilliant light from above and cozy feelings remaining from sunshine behind and ahead. I guess I see that in you, always assured that there was a sparkle in every darkness, behind every cloud. It was as if when coldness came you were the warmth as if your skin took it all in and kept it safe. Every time I feel myself getting cold...you keep me warm, Paris. You keep me so warm."
Tears. More tears. Heavier. He stops dancing. He's holding me now. He's holding me tighter than he's ever held me before and I am doing the same in return.
"I love you, Raine," he states.
Him calling me that name reminds me that he loved me even before he knew I was Midnight. He loved me for who I was, not what I was.
"I love you too Paris," I state, "I want you to promise me something."
His voice had a slowness as if he had all the time in the world to talk with me as if I really mattered to him. I can say that there is no person who ever held me in his eyes the way he did, another might need the use of arms, not he. Yet in all that gentle spirit there was a warrior, one who would make any sacrifice to save others, to guard them, pay any price.
"No matter what you have to do tonight," I tell him, "I want you to protect Dino..."
"Promise me," I state, "There are people who want him dead. Take him away from here as you told me you would. Bring him someplace safe so he can grow up without worrying."
"Raine," he states, "I already have a plan in place. Everyone's eyes are on you tonight. It's the best distraction. I have arranged for someone I trust to take him away."
"Someone, you trust?" I ask, "Please don't tell me you sent Striker."
"No, of course not," he states, "The only person I trust with Dino is someone I know that you trust with Dino."
Paris gives me a look, "I sent him away with Mist."
"Take me to them!" I state, "Take me to them NOW!"
My heart is racing. It isn't his fault. Paris would have no idea that Mist was tasked to murder Dino tonight. I explain this to him as he sneaks me out of the party the best way that he can. From the sweat, in his hands, as he guides me I can feel his panic. And I don't blame him. I blame myself. Dino was a kid. He never deserved to be in a place like this anyway.
"He should be here...this was where they were supposed to depart..." Paris states.
"They left already," My heart is racing.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
"Wait..." Paris states, "Look. Right over there."
There's a man sitting behind Paris. He's been sitting there for several minutes. We saw him as a brownish blur to the left, registered the shift as he crossed and uncrossed his legs. The movement like rustlings in a hedge, furtive, almost not there.
He lifts his eyes up, "He's gone."
Just at that moment, I realize people coming towards me. People coming from every direction. It's as though the party has followed me outside. And then I realize why. Titania was there with the Summer fairies. Not too far behind was Dorian with the Winter Fairies. They come out towards us like a fucking army. So many people. So confused.
"Where is my nephew?" I ask Mist.
Mist looks away, "He's gone."
I'm worried. What did he mean by gone? What the hell did he mean?
"He killed him," Titania immediately states, "He killed the King!"
The Summer fairies are up in arms. I look over at Dorian. Dorian has a smirk on his face. But then I look at Mist. I look at his face. Mist is smiling. He's smiling at me.
"Yes, I killed Dino!" he announces to everyone, "The King is dead."
Panic follows. Not me though. I feel an easiness when Mist pulls me close. He grabs me, hugging me. His eyes seem so far away. Something is wrong with him. I can feel it. Something is definitely wrong with him. The look on his face just says it all.
"He's safe..." he whispers to me.
And at that moment as he's saying that I know that he means it. I don't have to just believe his words either. Something is happening to Mist. Mist is...fading.
The thing that I was holding onto a few seconds ago is beginning to evaporate right into thin air.
"Arrest him!" Titania orders, "Arrest the human."
The order she gives is reacted on by the Summer Court who is desperately making a move to seize Mist. One thing I notice is Dorian. He isn't helping to protect Mist. He never planned on it. He was willing to have Mist take the fall for it. He's standing there with this triumphant smile on his face feeling as though everything was fine in the world. He feels as though he has won and his servant has done what he ordered.
It's a revelation to him that by the time they come to arrest Mist, he's no longer there.
Mist has faded away. His skin has turned into dust.
He is gone with the wind.
"What happened?" Titania asks.
She's confused but I'm not. Dorian isn't either. I look over at him and the smile that he has on his face is wiped away in a matter of seconds.
"He's in the shadow courts..." Dorian realizes.
He looks horrified. The look on his face says it all. He is completely in awe.
Mist was the only one who knew the whereabouts of my nephew and he wasn't there to spill it to anyone anymore. He had sacrificed himself not only for me but for my nephew. I lean over picking up the clothes he left behind. The little that he had left.
"I'm sorry," Paris states.
Paris is helping to gather his things. His clothes. His hunting knife. His bow and arrow.
"ARREST MIDNIGHT!" Titania orders, "He made the order. Or Dorian. That was an Autumn servant."
She's calling for justice but no one is moving. No one is coming to arrest Dorian or I. Her own men are just standing there looking stupid.
"What proof do you have of this?" Solaris asks, "What proof do we have that Dino is even dead? Perhaps we take a step back and investigate."
"Investigate? Investigate!" she screams out, "We have them now! NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT!"
There is desperation in Titania's eyes. She wanted a blood bath so bad and she wanted it now. Solaris isn't having it. Maybe he's been embarrassed enough today or maybe he was just scared that this might become something bigger. I didn't think being so obvious was the Fairy way. They'd rather do things behind the scenes.
"It's over," Solaris states.
He begins to walk away and I notice the Summer Fairies are inclined to follow him. But then I see Titania's eyes. She wasn't going to let this go. Right now she was steaming and she wanted blood more than anything.
"Come...Midnight, the night's over," my husband calls out to me.
"No it's not," she states, "The binding. Paris. You are bound to act."
Fuck. Her invoking this turns the attention to Paris who is standing there. He's standing there holding all of Mist's weapons that we gathered from his body. This included a hunting knife that he held in his right hand. I look over at Paris. My heart sinks when I see a single tear fall down his face.
"What binding?" Dorian asks.
Paris was bound to kill me.
I notice his hands shaking at that moment. I notice the Fall Court getting antsy. Several of them may have figured it out. Others suspected because they are making cautious but hurried steps towards me, ready to fly out in defense of me if necessary.
"Get him," Dorian says desperately, "Save my husband."
I stop them by holding my hand out. I look up at Paris. Paris is still shaking. He's looking down at the knife at this moment.
That's when I notice Paris completely lose it. Tears are streaming down his face, "I fucking love you..."
"WHAT!" Dorian screams.
Dorian himself makes a mad dash towards us, but before he can get to close I lift Paris's hand and I step in front of him. I position myself as his hostage forcing him to put a knife to my throat. I can see Dorian panic in a way that lets me know in his own sick way perhaps he really was in love with me in the best way that he knew how.
"What are you saying?" Paris states.
"I'm saying that I want you to kill me," I let him know without pause or hesitation, "I'm saying I can't bare what just happened to Mist to happen to you. I love you. I desperately love you more than anything I've ever felt before. And I don't want to live in this cold world without you, because you are the only thing that keeps me warm."
I feel his warmth all around me. His chest pressed against my shoulder blades. His mouth breathing down on my neck.
"You are my enemy," He states.
"I know," I state, "Do it. I have dust. I can make a wish at my moment of death using Dust. I can bring myself back to life."
Dorian is desperate warning me, stopped cold in his tracks because of the knife pressed against my throat, "Dust doesn't work that way. Midnight you can't control what happens with Dust. You can't risk it."
He's desperate to save me. I'd never seen pure emotion out of Dorian. Not like this. The only one that was more emotional was Paris.
He presses his mouth to the back of my cheek. I can feel the silent tears falling.
"You are my enemy. I'm sorry this has to happen. This is my apology," he is telling me, "We are miles away from each other."
"You don't have to explain," I state, "I get it. Do what you have to do."
"You don't get it."
"What do you mean?"
"We are enemies from miles away. Your compassion was the bridge, it just took time to trust my weight to it. You extended your hand and stayed while I showed you the scars, the mess, the fear. You let me come close, let me hide, let me return without shame. Every time I thought you'd had enough there was only patience I never felt I'd earned. I never wanted to be this way; I have pride. You were my enemy. I should hate you. I should kill you. I need to be seen as strong, though I haven't been and am still so far from achieving. True healing takes time, there is no magic dust for deep pain. I'm going to try to be reliable, no promises, but you know me by now, my word means something. And that's this is my apology."
"You don't have to apologize for doing what I want you to do."
"No this is my apology. I have to apologize for refusing to do what you want me to do."
With that Paris drops the knife. I scream out I believe. Tears streaming down my face desperately trying to turn around. His apology is the last things that come out of his mouth in words but it doesn't matter because at that moment I lean forward and I kiss him.
He declares his love in that kiss. He shows his sacrifice in that kiss. He bridges the gap between us in that kiss.
And then he's gone. Like Dust.
Like a memory.
And I'm holding onto that memory because there is nothing of him. And it isn't a surprise. Perhaps our love was always so star crossed. Perhaps we were always destined to fail. It was always so hard to hold onto Paris in the way I wanted to. Him fading away to the Shadow Court was nothing.
But at least he had Mist to keep him company.
Who did I have?
"Come now," Dorian states, "It's over."
I turn. I see that Titania has faded away into the shadows like the snake she is. She didn't get what she wanted. None of us got what we wanted. Mist and Paris were gone for nothing. Nothing but to make me smile. As though it was worth it. As though I was worth any of this.
I grab the locket from around my neck.
"Don't be ridiculous," Dorian states, "Don't waste a drop of that dust. It's the only thing we have against our enemies."
"There is no WE!" I scream out, "I'm all alone now. More alone than ever."
"Grow up," is his response, "Stop being a child. You are the Winter King, not the Winter Prince. Get over him. Get over both of them. You can't use Dust to bring back people from the Shadow Court. NOTHING can bring them back from the Shadow Court."
I feel this loneliness. This emptiness. Dorian loved me but he didn't know me. Not like Mist and Paris knew me. I was alone. I was all alone and I didn't want to live in this world alone. Not anymore.
So I do the only thing I can think of.
I pour the dust into the air and I make a wish.
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