"Let's just say there's pain involved. Lots of pain."
I've been imprisoned before, but those prisons were cloaked with finery to give the illusion of freedom. The Fae still treated me like a Princess, even while locking me up.
Now there is no finery, no illusion. The bars are steel. The hard-packed dirt beneath my feet reeks of urine and blood. The straw-filled mat that serves as my bed is covered in mold and insects. It's rough like sandpaper and worse than the floor. There's a pot for relieving myself in—the only "comfort" I'm afforded. My hands and face are coated with mud. My eyes ache from crying. I see no other cells past the bars. I hear no one but my guards—who do not speak to me. Even Yami has abandoned me. He has disappeared, and I no longer feel his presence.
I will spend the last of what remains of my life in this cell. Alone.
My mother will perish in hell forever.
Fen is gone.
Memories flash through my mind. The stone hallway. Ace and Levi on either side of me. Ace stepped back, protecting me with his frail body. "I believe I will be claiming my month with the princess, brother. From now on, she is under my protection. If you wish to kill her…" Ace paused, staring straight into his brother's eyes, "…you must kill me first."
Levi's ice-blue eyes softened, but only for a moment. He pointed his silver sword at me. "She is the enemy, brother. You must see this. You must step aside."
"No," Ace said with a power to his voice I'd never heard before. He ran a hand through his dark, messy hair, his eyes intent on the Prince of Envy. "The Princess deserves to face trial before sentenced to death." It was sometimes easy to forget the dreamy-eyed inventor was actually a powerful vampire-demon in his own right. Not someone to trifle with.
"I don't want to hurt you," said Levi, staring at his brother, his jaw clenched hard, a lock of white-blond hair failing across his forehead.
I've seen how he is with Ace. Of all his brothers, Levi has a soft spot for the Prince of Sloth.
He shook with rage, but he did not attack. Not yet. Ace's presence was enough. Enough to give pause.
Ace limped forward, keeping his body between Levi and me. He stifled a moan from the pain the movement caused, and I could tell he was still badly wounded. If it came to a fight, we were screwed.
I held Spero, my sword. It was broken in battle but had been reborn from the magic of Midnight Star, half black metal, half steel.
Yami was invisible to all but me, curled around my neck shivering. I wanted to slap the silly dragon. If he'd just embrace his powers we’d stand a chance. A giant dragon with the magic Yami wields could fight all the princes of hell if necessary.
But Yami still didn't know how to control his power anymore than I did. One minute it was there, the next, just a shadow of a memory. And there is nothing more infuriating than knowing you have power but not knowing how to channel it. Especially when your fate is sealed, and your days are numbered.
The thump of boots against stone flooring reverberated through the hall, and Zeb, Niam and Dean turned a corner running. They froze, frowning at the scene before them. Levi faced his brothers, about to say something, but I had to speak first. I needed them to side with me. "Fen is dying!" I yelled. "I must get back to him."
Only Zeb and Dean twitched at the mention of Fen. The others didn’t even seem to hear. Their cold gazes were fixed on me. On my ears.
"How is this possible?" whispered Zeb. The Prince of Gluttony normally maintained a polished look, with his dark hair perfectly coiffed and his clothes pristine. But now he was bloodied with battle, disheveled, adrenaline running high, like us all.
"She is the last of the High Fae," Levi said. "That is why the Druids awakened shortly after she returned here."
Niam and Zeb raised their swords higher.
Ace moved closer to me. "She is no threat, brothers. She saved me, remember. She’s trying to save Fen now."
This time, the princes softened at the mention of their brother. "Where is Fen?" asked Zeb. "Show me to him!"
Levi scoffed. "Fen can wait. Don’t you see, brothers? This is another scheme. Another tale woven to distract us from what truly matters. Her. She is the High Fae. If we kill her, the Druids will return to slumber. Peace will return to our lands. We must end her now. Before it's too late."
Niam nodded, moving forward with arm raised as if in battle. His dark skin was splashed with blood, his shaved head dusted with dirt and sweat, a savage glint in his ebony eyes. "Step aside, Ace. I do not want to hurt you, but if what Levi says is true, the Princess is an enemy."
Ace gripped his staff, his knuckles turning white. "You will not kill her."