"He'll be OK."
Mist is just trying to make me feel better. We were all we had. When we were younger he'd go out of his way to try to make me feel better if something was wrong. This was different though. Dino was taken away and I was helpless.
"He's 7..." is my only reply.
He was a young 7 too. He'd never been away from me. The tears won't stop coming no matter what I do. Mist wouldn't understand. He'd just found out that Dino was a Seelie. I remembered back then I was only 11. I knew what war was. I saw the streets littered in fucking bodies. That's when the Seelies came. They just wanted food and water. Aunt Willow wasn't going to let them in but they weren't asking. They forced their way in. That's when they got to my sister.
"He'll have a better life," Mist assures me, "Look at us. We can't give him the same kind of things that the Seelies can give him. They aren't so bad."
Bullshit. Mist hated Seelies.
"What's worse than a Seelie?"
"Just kickin the shit but I'd assume an Unseelie. The Seelies are monsters but at least they are rich monsters."
Mist has a point. Our skin is bronzed, tortured by the sun due to continuous exposure. The stench of sweat is evident. Our messy hair and dirtied skin is a sure sign of rough living. Right now I was wearing worn-out clothes passed down from Mist who got it from the baker down the street Aunt Willow was fucking at one point. If she was gonna fuck for hand-me-downs at least make sure they fit right. God knows how many previous generations had worn the same clothes.
We could teach Dino how to rob. We could teach him that sort of thing. These were eyes of experience; they'd seen a lot, not all of it pleasant. Mist's hardened look and stone-cold gaze were a clue to their witness.
"You think?" I ask.
"I rather die rich than poor."
That didn't help, "Mist goddam—- don't ever have a kid."
Mist shrugs, "Oh come on —-I'm fuckin wit you. He's not gonna die. He'll be fine. I know this—- as a fact."
Mist smiles sitting down and wrapping his arms around me as though everything OK. Everything isn't OK. He is among millions in this life. All major cities had the outskirts now. Millions of people who couldn't afford to make it to the Middle World let alone the Solitude. This "life" is all we'd known. I remember Dino's face – thinner than thin – clearly carves out his sharp features, leaving the attention not on his full, cracked lips, not on his hollowed-in cheeks, but on his tired eyes. If he had stayed here he will not go to school. He will not learn to read. He will not escape his life. A bad hand dealt with him, and a country of slaves. Slaves not to a fairy because by law we were `free', but to life; poverty and hunger their master.
And somehow now Dino had escaped.
Aunt Willow grunts. She's a beautiful woman or at least I think she once was. Now she was a shadow of one. Not even a good shadow. A shadow on a downcast day. It must have been a long time ago though. Now her cheeks were too sunken in. Her hair was too matted. Even then she could have been beautiful in a way but she wasn't. It was the anger behind her eyes. Unforgiving anger that made her the most awful looking woman in the world at times.
"I'd be surprised if he lasted a week," Willow states, "The Season Courts is the most dangerous place left in the world. I know this too----as a fact."
She's taking a shot at Mist's confidence. That was saying a lot. We'd been through a civil war. We'd seen the worst it can get.
"You really going to fuckin' say that, Ma?" Mist asks, "Right in front of Raine?"
"He needs to hear the truth. You can't protect him from the truths forever. He needs to know---"
"Know what?" I ask.
There is a pause. Mist gives his mother a look. It's a strange look, but a look that I've seen before. Growing up I had a strange feeling that something was being kept from me. Something very important.
Mist was the man of the house. His father was one of the first casualties in the civil war. Aunt Willow trained him to be strong and now it seems like he was maintaining his dominance over this family.
Aunt Willow shakes her head, "Nothing."
She starts leaving the room and turns to Mist.
"Stop touching him so much, Mist," Aunt Willow pauses before going into the next room with a full bottle of the cheapest Spring Alcohol, "He doesn't belong to you."
Mist removes his arm when Aunt Willow leaves. That's another thing that happens a lot in this family. The strange way she catches him looking at me. The longing that he doesn't seem to hide the older we get. The way Aunt Willow acknowledges that longing just like I do and warns him off from it over and over. It was a strange family dynamic but one I had gotten used to.
"What is she talking about? What truths?"
"You don't need to worry about it. You're still young."
"Like I said—-a goddam kid. Go to bed. Dino will be fine."
I can't sleep that night. My sadness is a hollowness. I can't tell you what's worse. Sometimes my hollowness is a shell, holding in a thousand oceans of tears. A feeling that there was more to my life. Something was missing.
I opened my dad's locket. It had glowed. Something it had never done until I had gotten close to the fairy vault. It was as though it was reacting to something.
Or perhaps warning me of something. Warning me that I was in danger?
Warning me that the Summer Fairies would come to get Dino?
He looks up at me. His bed was in a room small enough to be the pantry of one of the Seelie homes. Not even one of the nicer pantries that they had either.
"Can't sleep---huh? Come on. Ma is knocked out so she can't bitch about us sleeping in the same bed. I'll wake you up, so we don't get caught."
I climb into his bed. He has on underwear and that's all. Muscles rippled across every part of his body. The hard life had made him quite physically attractive.
"I'm worried about Dino."
"I'm sure wherever he is he's worried about you too."
"Can you help me?"
"I mean I got some drugs or—-..."
"No dumbass. A different kind of help."
"They took away health insurance during the war but I can offer you my mental services for a cost."
"Shut the fuck up, ok? Take my mind off the worry, ok----"
The moon is strong. It casts a shadow over the room. I can see Mist gulp in the darkness.
"Like you did before a long time ago----"
He doesn't hesitate. His breath was tart but that doesn't stop him from wrapping his lips around mine. He kisses me. Really kisses me. It wasn't one of those close-mouthed kisses you shared with an older family member when you left from dinner. There is a secret behind this kiss. A secret that I needed to know. A secret that he was keeping from me.
I kiss him back and he doesn't expect it. He doesn't expect me to climb on top of him in the middle of the night. Maybe it was the pain from losing Dino. Maybe it was just the business of the day or the fact that I had found Aunt Willow's stash of Spring Alcohol.
His mouth was saying stop but the rest of his body was reacting in a much different way. His hands betrayed him as they grabbed onto my ass. His heart abandoned him as I can hear it beating heavy through his chest. His breath deceived him to get heavier and heavier. Then there was the dick underneath him.
We'd never had sex before. I hold onto his dick, grabbing it and pulling it out of his underwear. This is the furthest we'd ever gone.
And that's when I spit on it. He watches as I get naked. He's mesmerized. So fucking mesmerized. And I am about to lower myself onto him. I am about to sit on it and he leans back closes his eyes ready for me to do it.
But I don't.
"That's the truth----" I say instead.
His eyes open up confused on why I stopped, "What?"
"You're not my cousin. You were going to let me to do it. You wanted me to do it. We're not family---that's the truth."
The last betrayal comes from his eyes now. They turn away desperately trying to avoid mine. He didn't want to lie straight to my face. Not over something important. So he just gets quiet. He stays quiet. All of a sudden he was either dumb or dumb. I'd never thought he was either. The last option was that he was guilty. He doesn't need to say anything. I knew the truth.
"What the fuck!" I mutter.
It's all a lie. Mist's own feelings for me let it out. He wanted me in a way cousins weren't supposed to want each other. I find myself storming out into the living room. Normally Mist would have followed me but tonight he doesn't.
And that's when I see it. A light on my locket.
My locket was glowing again.
"What is that-----" a voice states.
It's Aunt Willow. She walks out and sees my locket. She sees the bright blinding light that looks almost as bright as a star. It blinds the entire house. This time it's glowing red.
She sees the light and seems to be alerted somehow, "Something's wrong---something's----"
That's when I see the door being busted down. These men in black were in here. These fucking men in black! My heart is racing.
They come at me hard and strong. Two of them grabbed me from behind. I wasn't a fighter. Not like Mist, but I wasn't some weakling either. A jab to the face with my right arm causes them to stagger back and rethink their direct approach. They circle around me and I can see Aunt Willow throwing her vase at them. That's when I notice more coming in. More and more! What was happening? Why were they here in the middle of the night!
What the hell did they want!
I'm pinned to the ground. The man is trying to restrain me.
"Get off him!"
Mist is here. He announces his appearance with a quick hard kick to the face to the man whose pinning me down. He's quick. Sly. He's fast as he knees the next man. He wheels across the room flipping throwing his feet like a pinwheel. The staggering causes a bit of confusion. Just enough to get them confused. I get up and tackle one of our attackers from behind.
For a moment I think we're going to win. For a moment it feels like it's Mist and Raine ready to beat some ass. I should have known better. I hear the stab.
A crushing stab!
"You should have just let us complete the mission," the masked man who stabs him says.
My mouth drops. Seeing Mist hit the floor is shocking to say the least. All I see is blood everywhere. I run over him. I see Aunt Willow doing what she can, which for the average woman is quite a lot but we were surrounded and it was pointless.
I looked up realizing that she managed, however, to rip the mask off of the man who stabbed Mist.
The man had a scar across the right side of his face.
"He's dying. Please help me---" I beg these men.
"It's too late for him," the man with the scar says, "Take the boy. That's who we came for."
It's clear he's in charge. His men rip me away from Mist. I want to scream. I want to cry. I want to fight back but I'm so weak emotionally seeing Mist lying there dying. The men weren't even going to help him. They knew he would die if they left him like this and they still were going to do it. They were still going to fucking leave him like this.
That's when a black bag goes over my head.
I want to scream when I wake up. In a van. I don't remember going to sleep but I see two shadows in the van. For a minute I think the one standing up is some sort of angel. He's so attractive and maybe the blinding of the light puts a hallo around his head.
"You weren't supposed to bring any weapons---how am I supposed to get cooperation with you murdering his family?"
"Sir I had no choice."
"There were 8 of you. 8 of the best soldiers employed by the Summer Court. There was one man, one teenager and a woman. You mean you couldn't control it?"
The man looks mad. He had brown skin the color of roasted chestnuts but he had blonde---almost yellowish hair coming from his scalp as though it was the most natural thing in the world. I remembered him, but I hadn't had time to realize just how attractive he was until now. He has on strange clothing. A suit like shawl but with one arm missing that shows just how muscular and well armed he is. The sleeveless arm has a bicep covered in strange tribal tattoos.
"Master Paris----the boy is up," the man with the scar states.
Paris. That was his name. It's his lips that make the light in the rest of the room get a little bit darker. The world stops spinning as he leans in. I hadn't noticed his eyes before when he'd come the day earlier but today I noticed that they were icy. They were almost white. They didn't match the warm chestnut skin with the red undertones or the yellow hair cut low to his scalp and styled perfectly into sharp lines.
It's strange. Those eyes were almost like a cold kiss in Summer and I get lost in them.
My stomach turns over as my mind races to places I didn't know it could go until I remember this man—beautiful as he was----he kidnapped my nephew. He had kidnapped me. He attacked my family. His ice eyes connect with mine as my world shatters and he finally speaks.
"I'm sorry for your friend. It wasn't my intention for my men to use force."
"You sent them in the middle of the night to kidnap me. What did you think was going to happen? They were going to offer us milk and cookies?"
"Milk and cookies would have been nice."
"That was some really red milk jackass. Hope it didn't stain your perfectly white Seely teeth."
"My teeth are—- you know what? Why am I arguing with you? I'm trying to apologize here. Human. I'm not used to talking to your kind except with my servants and they don't talk like you. Listen, I'll say this once, slow so you can understand. I couldn't risk you escaping. I assure you."
"Too fast. My human mind has a hard time contemplating bullshit."
He acts like he doesn't hear that part, "My man Striker will be punished for what happened to your friend."
Striker. That was the man who was on the other side of the van. The man with the scar. The one who had done what he had done to Mist. I wouldn't forget his face. I wouldn't forget that scar. He would have to pay one day. Not today. Today I was tied up and he was too far. Today his boss would have to do.
"What about your punishment?"
"You intend to punish me? Humans have some dry sense of humor, I see..."
I lunge spit right into Paris's face, "Nah I like it wet."
Striker gets up dangerously with a gun in his hand even more offended then the Seelie. I wish I was untied. I wish he was closer. To hell with the fact that he was bigger than me and probably trained in real combat. To hell with all of that. He was going to pay for leaving Mist bleeding out like that. He was going to pay.
"Do you know who he IS!" Striker roars at the other side of the van.
Just like a human slave to be so upset that I attacked a Seelie. The Seelie looks up at me. He was important. I'd seen it the day before and I see how he's dressed right now. That wasn't a poor man's glow. I can tell you that much.
"Yep, I know who he is. He's a man with my spit on his face," I laugh.
Paris gives me a look. It's a harsh look. I'm glad. I loved when the Seelie façade dropped. I loved when they showed their true selves. This man was probably the most beautiful person I'd ever seen in my life but it didn't matter in that moment. In that moment he was just a loser wiping spit off his forehead. And it made me smile.
"Striker tell the driver to pull the truck over and get out. Go into the other truck," Paris states.
"You want to be left alone with that scum?"
"Do what I said."
Paris is what I really imagined a Seelie to be. He's angry looking and forceful with his words. Every word he says has venom attached to it. I wondered how the folks back in the Outskirts who thought the Seelie were so nice and amazing would feel if they were in this truck with me now.
Before I know it we're alone.
"People have died for less. A barbarian human like you attacking a Seelie. Yes, you barbarians have died for less."
He looks down at me. He's disgusted. I can see it in his eyes. I knew all the Seelies looked at us humans in the same way in private. In public though they smiled in our faces. They played their games. They wanted us all to believe everything was great. Right before they stabbed us in the back like Striker stabbed Mist.
"Kill me. Right here in the open instead of stabbing me in my back in the middle of the night. That might be a little bit more backbone than I thought you Seelies are capable of."
"You're quite lucky the young king needs you---"
"Dino. The heir to the Summer Court. My soon-to-be king. He's has been raising hell demanding you be brought to him," Paris states, "He refuses to take the Summer Crown unless you are brought to live with him at the Seasonal Court."
My heart drops. I'd been trying to put on a tough exterior but that all melts away. Dino was the one who demanded Paris bring me to court. That didn't excuse his methods though.
"I would have come. I would have come if you just asked," I state, "Dino needs me..."
I needed to be by his side. Forget what Aunt Willow said about the dangers of being at the Seasonal Court. I was the only father figure that Dino ever knew. For that moment I was proud of him. That was the boy that I raised, single-handedly. He was raising hell making sure that his Uncle Raine was brought to court with him. I could already hear him now. Willful and angry----just like his Uncle.
Paris winces seeming somewhat humbled even if it was for a second before he goes back to his natural state. His golden wings flicker a bit and his eyes fix on mine.
"Once he wears the crown you'll be sent back to your slums. You understand that---don't you?" he asks, "The Seasonal Courts is no place for the likes of you."
"The likes of me?"
Paris grunts. What's funny is that he's so handsome even his disgusted look is more attractive than any man in the outskirts. Including me. Including Mist. Asshole can't even be ugly in the right way.
"We'll see about that----"
"You're not here to cause trouble."
It's not a question. It's a statement. No, it's a little bit more than that. It's forceful. This was a threat. He's leans in at me. He's intimidating but there was no way I was going to let a Seelie know that he intimidated me. These people were the enemies.
"Who me?" I ask with a smile.
These people had attacked Mist. They had left him to die. They had raped my sister. They had kidnapped my nephew. If they thought they could just bring me into their home...they had another thing coming.
They were just letting a wolf into the hen's house as far as I was concerned. I would get my revenge. I would destroy the Seelies...from the inside out.
"Cute," he states, "Things happen at the Seasonal Court. I'm sure you've heard the rumors. It's a war. You understand human? Only our battlefield is ballroom. Only the warriors are armed in gowns and smiles. You think the young King did something good by inviting you in there. But I think he just dug your grave."
My stomach curls and betrays me enough to make a noise. I keep my face solid but he hears my concern. Paris hears my worry. And he smiles.
Paris doesn't talk to me for the rest of the way and I'm quite happy he doesn't. He avoids eye contact as though looking at me would bring the plague on him. I'd seen Indigo and now I'd seen Paris. They were from two different courts and quite different. Paris was darker of course and the gold pieces were quite different from the colorful styles I'd seen on the Spring Fairies.
I want to ask him questions. I want to ask him questions about the court. I want to ask him what to expect. I want to know what I needed to know about the Spring fairies and the Summer fairies. I want to know everything there is to know.
But I can't. I won't lower myself enough to ask for his help.
"Put these clothes on," he states.
It's almost as though he can see me staring at him. He tosses some clothes over at me.
"Can you turn around?" I ask him.
"You think there's anything you have on your pathetic human body that I would be interested in?" he asks clearly offended.
"Then you wouldn't mind turning your perfect Seelie eyes the fuck around."
"You can't speak to me like that."
"I just did."
"Not for my sake. I have a strong backbone. But in court you can't just rummage around like some sort of barbarian. You would be taken out into the gardens and shot. And there is no way the Summer King will be able to save you."
"Well we're not in court yet----so turn the FUCK around... Please." I say with a smart grin to piss him off even more.
He's irritated with me. I can hear it in his breath. It's nice to know I can get under his skin. Paris does what I want in the end too. He turns around.
I get naked and put on the clothes that he gives me. I'm expecting some elaborate golden suit like he has on. Maybe one of the colorful ones that I'd seen Spring Fairies wear so many times. That wasn't the case. I had on this dark brown color. Clean cut and probably some of the nicest clothes that I've ever worn----but basic. Dull. Not at all how I imagined clothing in the Seasonal Courts to look like.
"Yes, servant. Or did you think you would come into the court as an honored guest?" he laughs, "You're going to be one of the king's servants. Fold his clothes. Wash his dishes. Scrub his shit stains."
He's amused by this. He thinks this is belittling me. I roll my eyes. The things that these Seelies thought were disgusting were normal day life for me.
"You think that bothers me? I've done those things for my nephew since the moment he was born."
He looks over at me.
"Yeah Nephew----asshole. Why the hell do you think your beloved King wants me in court by his side so bad?" I ask, "I'm his uncle."
"Funny," he states.
"So am I," he states.
"King Dynamis was your brother?" I ask.
Paris nods, "We may not like each other. We may never get along. But we both want what's best for Dino. That is the ONLY reason I'm risking protocol to sneak you into the palace. If anyone finds out you are related to the King you will be an immediate target. He has many enemies..."
"He's a kid!"
"He's a king! And the ones responsible for killing his father are still at court."
My heart races.
"Let me take him home...please..."
I'm crying. I was so tired of crying. I had to get myself together. Dino had to be so scared. He wasn't making a power move by trying to get me brought to court. He was scared. He was scared for his life and he had reason to be.
"That's out of the question unfortunately. So if you want to live, let's work together. Actually scratch that. If you want your nephew to survive this----do what I say, when I say. You may hate me. It's quite mutual. But we need to work together. He's my family, too."
I look at him. Shit. This asshole and me shared the same nephew. It's awkward for a moment. For a moment I wonder if maybe I shouldn't hate him in the way that I do. Then I remember it didn't matter that we had the same nephew.
My sister didn't have the choice in deciding who the father of her child was.
She was forced into this.
"Fine," I state.
"Good, we're pulling up to the Seasonal Courts now."
I look outside of the window. It's everything that I thought it was going to be. Everything and more. This was the beginning of my new life. This was going to be the hardest thing I'd ever done. The Seasonal Courts were a warzone and I had just put on my helmet.
"If I agree to listen to you----will you send someone to help Mist. The one who was stabbed back in the outskirts?"
Paris shakes his head.
"I already did. I got a messenger to reach out to me...from your Aunt," Paris states, "She wanted me to give you this."
I look down at the paper.
"No. I didn't read it," he states, "The Seal is unbroken."
It was better than I thought he was capable of. Maybe he really did want to work together. Maybe giving me this letter from my Aunt was his way of telling me that things were OK. The words wouldn't have made sense to him anyway now that I open it. It's in a coded language. A language that Aunt Willow had taught me when I was just a kid. A dialect that no one else in town knew. Mist and I used it back in the day to plan robberies right in front of our target's faces.
Now, Aunt Willow was smart enough to use it to communicate with me. Paris not reading this letter didn't matter at all. He wouldn't have even understood the words on the page.
All I could think about while I read the note from Aunt Willow was that if Paris thought we were going to work together, he had another thing coming.
I knew Aunt Willow. No one would force her to write this. This was her handwriting. It even smelled like alcohol.
My Aunt's letter is simple and to the point in her coded language. I translate it easily in my mind.
I need you to hide your locket. There is so much that I haven't told you. And so much you need to know. Even in our coded language, I don't trust explaining why you need to keep your locket hidden. I'll have to explain in person. I'll explain why when I get there. Don't ask me how but I'll get to the court, one way or another. I'm coming. Stay alive until I get there. Hide who you are. Trust no one. Keep your nephew safe. We WILL get Dino out of there. I'm coming.
There is something you need to know, Raine. It's about Mist. He didn't make it.
I close the letter and breathe. I look up at the Seasonal Courts. An anger comes over me. A darkness. I grab the locket from around my neck and put it into my shoe when Paris isn't looking.
I was going to get Dino away from these people.
But not before I got my revenge.
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