Lucian. "You have grown too soft. Too fond of the girl."
"I have grown compassionate. Isn't that why we fight?"
"We fight for many reasons. We need the Midnight Star, but we must stay in command. We must—"
I am thrown into a room. The door locks behind me. Madrid loosens her iron grip and leans in to speak quietly in my ear. "I apologize for this treatment, Your Grace. Soon, all shall be revealed, and you will understand how important you are to your people."
"My parents were human," I say through the bag. "I'm human. You have the wrong girl."
Durk laughs, but it's Madrid who speaks. "You are half human, which is a problem for some. For those who believe the throne should only be inhabited by the purest of our kind. But your blood is the most powerful, that of the High Fae, that of the royal line. You are heir to our lands, heir to Avakiri. And everyone shall soon see that your human half has not corrupted what you are. You will wake the ancient powers of our kind and bring balance back to the Four Tribes. And then we will free our people and rule our world once again."
Her words are heavy with the promise of war, of bloodshed, of death. And I know whose death she calls for. The vampires. The demons. Maybe even the Shade. Anyone who shares the blood of their oppressors.
My friends. The people I have grown to love.
My mind pulls back to her other words. "Half human?" I know my mother is human. Isn't she? But then, I thought I was human too. What of my father?
Click. Another door unlocks, and I'm escorted through it. Madrid gently sits me down into a chair. She pulls the bag off my head, and I blink a few times to acclimate my eyes to light again. How could this be? This is no dungeon. No medieval torture chamber. I'm in a spacious bedroom suite complete with a blazing fire and plush four-poster bed. I sit at a small table with two chairs, and I study the light oak bookshelf, desk, dresser, armoire, and door, which presumably leads to a bathroom. The king treats me like a slave, and yet I am given the rooms of a princess.
My hands are still tied together. I check the window. Bars over it from the outside. So, it is a cage, a gilded one, but a cage nonetheless.
Undoubtedly, the door to my room will be locked from without.
Madrid leans over to untie my hands. White furs cover her body, and brown leather covers her legs. A red cord is tied around her waist.
Durk grumbles. A brown bear pelt spills over his shoulder. "Should keep her locked up. No telling what she'll do."
Madrid clucks at him. "She's already done the worst, summoning the Prince of War. She doesn't have her powers yet. She's harmless. And we need her to cooperate."
"We only need her blood to cooperate," he says.
Madrid ignores him and takes the chair opposite me, forcing Durk to remain standing. Her white hair is long, nearly touching the floor, flowing down her back in several braids. "Haven't you figured it out yet?" she asks.
I shake my head, because though pieces are clicking together, the picture they make is too confusing for my pounding head to make sense of.
"Your father was High Fae. He was in line to be king. This was thousands of years ago, of course. Back when there were any royalty of our kind left. Back before the princes and their demon spawn destroyed everything, killing into near extinction our very race, wiping out the royal line entirely."
"Except my father," I say, my throat dry.
"Except your father," she says. "He had already been banished from this kingdom and sent to your world as punishment, to live amongst humans, forever hiding who he was. He was meant to live in the shadows, to scrape by in obscurity for what he did. But it seems he couldn't behave, even there. He fell in love. With a human. He tarnished his bloodline and created a child who was half human. And then he got himself killed, and you and your mother disappeared. Until now."
"My father was Fae? Royalty?" My fever is spiking. Everything feels disjointed. Unreal. I shiver, but I am so hot I want to peel my own skin off.
Madrid responds, but her words blur together, like two composers playing different songs at the same time.
My eyes close, and the world turns upside down. Something hard hits my head. Someone yells. Hands on my body. Cold. So cold on my hot skin.
I'm being lifted and carried and I don't care because all I want to do is follow the darkness into nothingness.
And so I do.
When I wake, I'm wrapped in layers of blankets and wearing a long cotton gown. My hair is a nest of tangles spread over my pillow, and my head still aches, but at least I'm not hallucinating. I try to sit up, but a voice stops me. "Take it slow. You're still weak."
Madrid comes into my view, her flawlessly youthful face juxtaposed against her long white hair and ancient eyes. Her pointed ears are tipped with silver earrings shaped like waves, and she wears a long sea foam green gown pulled at the waist with a thin silver tie. Silver and blue designs cover the hem and chest, and a blue cape falls over her shoulder.
"How long have I been here?" I ask.
"You slept through the night and most of the day. I gave you medicine to heal your illness. Still, you'll feel tired for a few days." She slips a hand behind my back and helps me sit up. The room is warm, the fireplace blazing. I've soaked through my clothing and sheets, and my skin feels clammy, but not nearly as hot as before. "My fever broke," I say.
Madrid nods. "I should have seen how sick you were, but there were other matters to focus on. It was careless of me. You're too valuable to lose."