Chapter Thirty

When Awen awoke Gabriella was curled up into her side, with her leg curled around and twisted with her own. Her face rested on Awen’s collarbone. She didn’t want to wake her, but she didn’t want to be in this position when Gabriella awoke. She didn’t want to be in this bed. Tears fell from her eyes and she felt like she was being ripped open for a second time. Should she just allow herself to feel? To say goodbye to the darkness? It had been her friend for so long, the only friend she’d had. But now that she had Gabriella again, maybe things could be different. She wiped the tears away.

Gabriella stirred in her sleep and softly sighed, moving closer to Awen. She kissed the top of her head, which woke her up. Gabriella opened her eyes and stared sleepily up at her.

“Good morning,” Gabriella said, her voice low and thick with sleep. She stretched, closing her eyes and smiling.

Awen couldn’t help but smile down at her, her body warming with happiness. When reactions like this just happened, Awen thought that maybe things could be different. She lightly traced patterns on Gabriella’s back as she snuggled closer after her stretch. She didn’t want to say anything but she thought she would scream if she didn’t let it out.

“Do you think—things could be different? That I could let go of this darkness?” The last part was asked at barely a whisper, showing her confusion, her fear, and her lack of confidence.

 

Zaria awoke to the sun streaming in. Apprehension twisted her stomach into knots and she just lay in the bed, staring up at the ceiling. She was nervous about this battle. There were so many unknowns, even though they had tried to account for as much as possible. It wasn’t known entirely where the prisoners would be kept, since there was more than one place for them at the castle. Thirsten said there was a good chance he knew where they would be, but it was not certain. She tried to breathe deeply in and out, slowly, to calm her nerves.

She got out of bed to the sound of silence. Everyone had decided to take the day off from training. The day before they set out for battle was to be a day of relaxing and morale boosting. There was to be a great feast that night in the dining hall. Not everyone would fit in there at once, but afterwards she would give a rallying speech on the steps outside of the main entrance to the compound. She wasn’t sure what she was going to say, but she would figure it out. Thirsten would be there for her, she knew, and Rishtah.

Zaria was worried about Manuel, though. She had approached him several times and tried to offer comfort, but he remained distant. Thirsten told her that he trained the hardest out of anyone he observed. Zaria had hoped they could comfort each other since they were both missing someone they loved, but Manuel wasn’t having any of it. She sighed and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, figuring she might as well get out of bed and get some food. Her rumbling stomach won over her desire to stay in it.

She pinned up her long tresses and donned a mint green dress with shimmery diamonds sewn in, her bust moderately peeping out. The middle had a corset worked in, and the skirt was made of a light material that swished around. If she could dress like this every day, maybe she wouldn’t mind being the queen. She groaned at her own thoughts. Being the queen had nothing to do with fashion, no matter how much she appreciated the beautiful dresses people were giving her as gifts.

Before she reached the dining hall, she ran into Manuel. “Hey!” She smiled at him, getting his attention. “How are you doing? Are you ready for tomorrow?”

“You shouldn’t be smiling,” he growled at her, narrowing his eyes. She saw his muscles tense.

“I’m just trying to stay positive,” she started to say, the smile fading from her face.

“You have no idea what that woman does to the ones she captures,” he said angrily. “They are not treated well! If they are alive at all! She tortures them in such horrific ways.” His voice trailed off after yelling, his eyes distant, as though remembering.

Zaria stayed silent, his words hitting her like the force of a million planets. She had known this, but had tried forgetting about it. She didn’t want to think about it. She didn’t want to think about Gareth being tortured, or her sister. She swallowed hard, trying to think of what to say.

“I’ve done it, I’ve tortured for her before,” he said, turning back to her, his eyes full of anguish.

She knew then that he was remembering the fairies he had tortured for Awen. He probably remembered every single one, every single thing he had done. She was speechless. She hadn’t even thought about that, what that must feel like. Her heart hurt for him then, and she took a step towards him. He saw her intentions and backed away, holding up a hand to try and force her to stay at a distance. But she continued forward anyway, her eyes shimmering with tears. She embraced him in a hug and at first he resisted. He was tense, but he finally accepted it and relaxed, returning her hug. Her tears wet his tunic, and she told him that she was sorry.

“We will get them back. We will defeat her,” Zaria said to him. She sniffled back her tears and released him from the hug, glad that he had finally opened up to her and that she could connect with him. He still looked sad, but she hoped he was on his way to healing. She needed to reunite him with her sister. It would happen. She gave him a small smile before resuming her trek to the dining hall. She ate eggs and ham in solitude, since more and more people were starting to know who she was. They gave her a wide berth, glancing in her direction every once in a while.

She sighed as she stood, leaving to find a place where she could truly be alone, where she wouldn’t be stared at and whispered about. She went to the library. Thankfully it was empty. Everyone was outdoors, enjoying the warm day and interacting with others. She sat on a window seat in front of a stained glass window. It was a scene of a fairy wielding the power of the universe, Zaria could tell. She liked to stare at the window, wondering if that’s what she looked like. It was kind of a frightening sight, but beautiful at the same time. This fairy had blonde hair that was floating out around her, her eyes closed and her palms open towards sky, arms stretched over her head. An azure haze enveloped her and the air around her. It glittered from the sunlight hitting it. Micro diamonds were infused in the azure parts of the painting.

This side of the library faced outside of the small town instead of towards the courtyard in the center. Fairies were walking around, some staying in small or large groups. There were so many of them. She felt their energy. They were in high spirits. Her own doubt was so great that their energy had a minimal effect on her. They all believed in her, that much was true. She believed in herself, but she wondered what kind of affect her decision would have on everyone else. Would they still support her? She was nervous about it. The bigger question was, did she actually care if they would still support her if she felt like she was doing the right thing? Only time would tell.

She leaned her head onto the glass and drew her knees up to her chest, just watching them. She was trying not to think anymore. She wanted to be in Gareth’s arms once more, and she closed her eyes, imagining he was there now, holding her to his chest. She imagined his scent around her, the smell of woods and energy.

When she finally opened her eyes the sun was low in the sky and she reluctantly made her way to the dining hall and passed many people on the way. She took a seat in the front of the room in between Thirsten and Rishtah. They were served by the staff before anyone else and Thirsten made a quick speech to the room before telling them to feast on the steaks, ribs, honey glazed carrots, warm breads, potatoes, and a myriad of other foods. The cooks had gone all out for the meal and she was impressed. It was scrumptious and she ate every last bite before leaning back in her chair with a hand on her belly.

Several people came up to their table throughout the next couple of hours as groups came in and out of the room to eat. The group then went to the war room to stitch up the final plans and confirmations and then it was time for Zaria to rally the troops with a speech. She was nervous about speaking to so many people, but it was expected of her.

She walked beside Thirsten and his hand squeezed hers before they walked out onto the steps. The cheers that met them were deafening from all of the fairies there. Her heart beat wildly, crashing against her rib cage. Thirsten stepped out a little and held up his hands, asking for silence. After a few moments everyone was quiet.

“I just want to thank you all so much for coming here for me. Not just me, but yourselves. Us. And not just to help ourselves, but help a great woman. She has overcome so much.” Thirsten paused a moment, shaking his head, looking down. “Like you, I thought the royal line was dead. I thought everything was lost, and that we would all just live our last days as best we could. But the discovery of Princess Zaria has restored hope. She’s the one we’ve all been waiting for, and I know she can do it. But not without your help. There will be fairies out there that will lose their lives in a valiant effort. We need to be prepared for that. But we also need to be prepared for when the princess takes back the royal crown and the royal family once again takes its rightful place! We will have peace! We will have abundance! We will have victory!” Thirsten shouted these last few lines, raising a fist in the air. Cheers resounded, and clapping.

Being just in front of the entire mass of fairies Zaria couldn’t help but be influenced by the energy. It was flowing in and around her and she smiled, glowing from the atoms she was letting coalesce inside of her.

“And now, here’s your princess!” Thirsten had to shout this at the top of his lungs and still he was probably not heard. He bowed to them and stepped back, allowing Zaria to go up to the edge of the steps.

She let them whoop and holler for a few minutes before holding up her hands to the crowd. They silenced immediately. She was quiet for a moment still, gathering her thoughts.

“It seems like such a long journey, from the time I was found and reunited with my family to today. I cannot even express the happiness I felt when I found my sister and my mother.” She paused for a moment, she hadn’t wanted to mention her mother but it had just slipping out. “I was astonished when I discovered that there was a great number of people that were aiming to fight back against Awen. They just lacked the resources. I am that resource.” Zaria paused again, nodding her head.

“I am that resource. There has been so much lost. The lives of our loved ones. Our homes. Our dignity. Our land,” she said, gesturing with her arm towards the trees at the edge of the road leading up to the steps. “I am going to get us everything back. Everything,” she said firmly. “This will be a hard battle, but we can do it. We must. If we fail, everything is gone, for good. There will be nothing after this. So this is it. This is our chance. I’m going after Awen, but I need everyone here to do everything they can against everyone else. This is the fight of a lifetime. We ARE fighting for our lives! If we don’t win, who will for us? WE WILL WIN! WE ARE THE RESISTANCE!” Zaria shouted, pumping her fist in the air to deafening cheering and clapping. It was louder now than ever before. Zaria bowed and turned away, leaving them in high spirits.

Rishtah took her hand in her own and squeezed before letting go and Thirsten hugged her shoulders. They walked back through the hallways in silence before they got back to the sleeping quarters. The three of them stopped, having lost everyone else along the way.

“Are you ready?” Thirsten asked quietly.

“Yes,” Zaria answered, staring straight into his eyes. “I am.”

“I knew you would be. You said some great things tonight. I’m so proud of you. Your family is proud of you too. Everyone is. You’ve come a long way. I know we are going to do this, and you’re our shining star,” he smiled at her.

“Thank you. I feel thankful I’ve had such wonderful trainers,” she smiled back.

He kissed the top of her head and clasped her arm. “I’m getting to bed. It’s going to be a long and early day tomorrow. Good night, Princess.” He used her formal title and bowed, then turned and walked away.

“Good night,” she called after him. She turned to Rishtah and smiled tiredly. “Thank you, for everything you’ve done for me. For us. I won’t forget it, and I wanted to make sure I mentioned my gratitude before we leave. Just in case.”

Rishtah shook her head. “Please don’t talk like that. Tell me when it’s all finished,” she said, putting her hands to Zaria’s cheeks.

Zaria grabbed Rishtah’s hands and brought them down, gently squeezing. “Regardless of how you want me to talk, thank you. You are amazing and I don’t know what I would do with you. We should always acknowledge our appreciation of others, no matter what time it is.”

Rishtah smiled and glanced down, nodding. “Yes,” she said, looking back up at her. “That is true. So thank you for being you, Princess. I know what we’re asking of you isn’t easy, so thank you. We all appreciate it. But we should get to bed. It’s a long and early day tomorrow, like Thirsten says.”

“Indeed it is. Good night, dear friend,” Zaria said, embracing her.

“Good night and sleep well.”

They parted ways and Zaria walked into her bed chamber. She slipped into a silk nightgown that went down to mid-thigh. It’s something Gareth would love to see on her. She sighed and turned over onto her side, an arm under her head. She would not be able to sleep. She thought about her speech and everything she had said. She had said a lot of things, and none of them had been true. There was the plan. And then there was her plan.

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Chapter Twenty-Nine

Zaria watched the progress with the army. She shuddered at the thought that it was essentially her army. Thirsten had told her as much the day before. She looked at it with new eyes. She hadn’t really considered it her army until Thirsten had said it in the meeting at the enchanted table and everyone present had acquiesced. She didn’t know how she felt about it. Rishtah joined her at the balcony.

They stood in silence for a while before Rishtah said, “It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?”

Zaria didn’t say anything for a minute before revealing her true feelings. Rishtah had become a best friend, a confidante. “I don’t want it,” she shook her head, turning to her friend.

Rishtah cocked her head to the side. “Don’t you want to save your loved ones she has taken?”

Zaria contemplated her answer. “Of course I want them back. I want nothing more in this world.” She paused. “But to be in charge of this much death and destruction- it’s too much for my heart to handle. It seems evil.”

“Zaria, listen to me.” Rishtah said, taking Zaria’s hand. “Awen is evil. She will not stop. She will destroy everyone and everything in her own path of self-destruction. She already has, and she will continue. We need to stop her.”

Tears started falling from Zaria’s eyes. She didn’t want this responsibility. The idea of so much blood on her hands was too much for her. She knew people were going to die and it hurt her. She knew some of the people she sat next to and trained next to weren’t going to make it.

“This needs to be done,” Rishtah said softly, taking Zaria in her arms. They stood there for a while as Zaria cried. “How about we take a short break for a while? I found this place that might be relaxing to you.”

Zaria nodded and dried her eyes. Rishtah led her underground and they came to a hidden grotto with springs. “Is that a mud bath?”

Rishtah laughed. “It is, and it feels wonderful.” There was a small mud bath with dark brown muddy clay next to a small waterfall surrounded by exotic looking ferns. It was amazing to her that there could be such opposite ends of the spectrum, with this heated sauna of a room with a tropical feel and snowy cliffs several hundred feet above her head. It looked like the waterfall was a place to rinse off the mud. Stone steps led upwards and Rishtah told her a natural hot spring was up there. The hot air suddenly made sense.

“Thirsten told me that this used to be an active volcano. It has been dormant for many thousands of years, but the magma is close enough to the surface in the cave to make it feel so warm,” Rishtah explained as they disrobed and climbed into the mud bath. They pinned their hair on top of their heads and rubbed the mud into the skin on their arms and faces. They sat there for a while quietly, listening to the waterfall. Zaria really didn’t want things like this to be destroyed because of Awen, or the people. It was something she turned over and over in her mind, especially ever since Thirsten had brought her up to the snow. Eventually, she would do whatever it took to get her family back, even though she hated what she had to do in order to get them back. After all, she had a wedding to attend. Her own.

Tears slipped past her mud mask, making small tracks down the now hardened plaster. Rishtah had her eyes closed so she cried quietly. She missed Gareth so much it hurt. She missed her sister. She just wanted everything together and whole again. She could feel the broken pieces of the universe within her.

“When are we going to be ready to move out?” Zaria asked suddenly, an edge to her voice.

Rishtah opened her eyes and looked at her for a moment. “Probably just a few days. The branch leaders are in the process of telling their troops exactly where they are going. They are also being informed of the terrain and any challenges they will face, since many of them are not from here. We’ll have a final meeting the day before we leave to make sure from the leaders that everyone understands what they are to do.”

“Okay,” Zaria absently said. She frowned. She wanted to leave sooner, but it couldn’t be helped. “I’m ready,” she said, steel in her voice. She would be strong. She would not back down or back away.

Rishtah was nodding. “Good. Let’s rinse off and jump in the spring.”

Zaria smiled, excited for this natural hot spring. They got out and walked to the waterfall, rinsing the mud from their bodies. It felt glorious, and Zaria could already feel how soft her skin was from the clays and minerals. She felt refreshed and ready to relax even more before the big day.

 

When Awen had run out of Gabriella’s room, she had forgotten to lock the door, or even close it. It was wide open. She stood there staring at it. She could go rescue her daughter and Aria’s fiancé, Gareth, and her husband. Or she could run after Awen. She felt sick with indecision. Awen’s freaking out meant there was still love there. She thought about what would happen if she got everyone out. Nothing would end. All of this destruction would continue and nothing would change. Or she could go after Awen, talk some sense into her, and save everyone. But she could fail, too. Maybe Awen was too far gone. Tears of frustration fell and she angrily wiped them away. Maybe her desire to go after Awen was because she was weak, and had nothing to do with saving anyone.

She walked to the doorway. She could turn right. Or she could turn left. Her body was shaking as she took another step forward. Her heels were flush with the doorway. Another step. She was in the hallway. In front of her was the curved stone wall of the turret. She was somewhere on a middle level. Awen was at the top. She remembered which way she came from when they brought her up here, so she knew which way was down and how she could get to the dungeons. She stopped and looked both ways.

And then her foot moved on its own it seemed. Her body turned and she took a left. She paused and took a deep breath, then continued on. The stairs were endless and she started counting them. She lost count but kept going. She finally reached the end of the stairs. The corridor was short and the door stood open.

Gabriella could smell the coppery tang of blood and her mouth fell open at the destruction before her. Broken glass was everywhere and tables were overturned. The blood red fabric that had lined the walls was torn down in shreds. Gabriella carefully shuffled on the floor instead of walking so she didn’t walk on the glass. Her slippers mostly pushed the glass out of her way. She found Awen at the foot of her bed, naked and covered in blood. A corpse lay at her feet. Awen saw her and covered her breasts with her arms, her head falling and her hair covering her face. Gabriella made her way over and cleared a place for her to sit. She put a finger under Awen’s chin and saw that she was…crying.

Awen tore her head away from her and kept crying. “I don’t want you to see me like this,” she whispered.

Gabriella looked at the corpse and her stomach turned. She looked away from it and put her arm around Awen’s shoulder. “It’s okay,” she whispered back. “I love you still, and I always have. I’m so very sorry everything has happened as it has. There’s nothing I can ever do to take anything back. All I can do is be here now.” At first Awen stiffened in her arms, then slowly relaxed into the embrace. They sat like that for a while before Gabriella said that they should get cleaned up.

They got up and walked to Awen’s bathroom. It was black marble with veins of white everywhere. Blood red decorations and towels completed the dark look. The giant tub sat atop a few stairs that Awen sat on as Garbiella started the water. She chose a lavender and chamomile milk bath. Gabriella lit some beeswax candles, then guided Awen into the bath. The water turned pink as the blood mixed with the milky water. They sat facing each other, and she dipped a small towel into the water to wet it. She rubbed a bar of soap in the wet cloth to get some lather and took Awen’s arm. She didn’t say anything, just let Gabriella do as she wanted.

Gabriella softly washed Awen’s arms. Awen tensed a little when the cloth was rubbed gently over her breasts but didn’t move or say anything. She relaxed when Gabriella moved away from that area. She felt kind of awkward. She didn’t know what to say and Awen wasn’t speaking. She decided to let the silence continue. If she didn’t know what to say, she wasn’t going to force herself to and probably say the wrong thing.

When they got out of the bath, Awen let her dry her off. They put on robes and stepped their way through the mess. Gabriella led her back to her room. Awen stopped a guard on the way and ordered him to clean her bedchamber. They settled into Gabriella’s bed facing each other. Awen was letting her in, in a way, and she didn’t want to ruin it.

“Are you happy here?” Awen asked after a while.

“Yes, I just wish I had been with you the entire time,” she answered, longing to reach out and touch her. But she wanted Awen to make the first move.

Awen was quiet for a long time. Then she asked, “Then why did you leave me?” so softly that Gabriella thought she had imagined it. Her heart broke as she looked at her lover’s face. It broke into a million pieces all over again.

“I didn’t want to do it, I swear to you,” she said brokenly as tears ran down her face. “My father, he made me. He threatened me when he found out. He threatened us, and he threatened you. He-“ Gabriella couldn’t continue. She put her hand to her mouth and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath before opening her eyes and saying, “If I didn’t comply, he told me he was going to torture you and make me watch. He said that he would kill you in front of my eyes. I thought—I thought it would be better if we never spoke again. At least then you wouldn’t be dead.” She could barely bear to remember that day. It had been the worst day of her life.

“Yes, I suppose so. But look at who I became,” Awen said sadly.

“If I could change things, I would have ran away with you. I just didn’t see a way out,” she thickly said, trying to stop the tears. “I would have found a way.”

Awen didn’t respond right away. “Ever since—you’ve been back, I—I’ve been questioning who I am,” said haltingly. “I never really thought about it. I just did things. I took this castle because I thought you would be here and we could be together again. And then I thought you were dead so nothing mattered at all.” Awen paused, looking away. “Now—I feel like there’s a light in the darkness. But I don’t want to open up to you, I don’t want to release that light. If I do, I’m terrified of what would happen. It would be too much for me to bear, everything I’ve done.”

“I’ll help you through it,” Gabriella told her, wanting to convince her to stop all of this killing and death.

“I don’t think it would be enough. I think I would lose my mind. What’s left of it, anyway,” her mouth twisted up in a sardonic smile. “I paced your room every night for so many nights, wondering if I should let you in or not.”

“You’re letting me in right now,” Gabriella pointed out.

“I suppose so. In a way. But I can’t allow for you to be my light. I can’t let myself get that close to you again.”

Gabriella swallowed thickly. She didn’t know what to say to that. “I’ll take what I can get, I guess,” she finally murmured, smiling sadly and closing her eyes. Everything had made her feel exhausted. In her hazy sleep, she felt Awen gently stroking her hair.

 

Awen waited until Gabriella was sleeping to touch her soft hair. She could already feel her heart breaking. Feelings had started oozing back into her life, and she didn’t know what to do. Anger and hatred were easier. Not only her heart, but her mind was falling apart too. “What do you do to me?” She whispered, wanting to cuddle but not wanting to disturb her.

Aim to Misbehave

She woke up to sunlight streaming in through a crack in the curtains. For a moment she wondered where she was, but then she remembered, stretching her sore muscles. An arm tightened around her middle and drew her in closer. She could feel his breath stirring her hair and she sleepily smiled, closing her eyes as her aches reminded her of the previous night. Even now with everything sore, she grew wet as she relived her favorite moments. She bit her lip as she contemplated being naughty to get what she wanted. She could tell he was still sleeping, but if she wiggled just so, he would wake up. She knew he wouldn’t be able to resist. She could feel him behind her, her big spoon. Trying not to move her body too much, she reached down between her legs and almost whimpered when she touched herself to see how wet she was. She was sore, but it felt good.

“Kitten,” a voice behind her growled. She froze, breathing shallow.

“Yes sir,” she answered softly, her belly tightening at his pet name for her and his growling voice.

“What are you doing?” He asked and her face flushed with guilt.

“N-nothing,” she breathed, stammering.

“Are you lying to Daddy?”

She was silent for a moment and she took too long to answer, gasping softly when his hand encircled her wrist, drawing it up to reach behind her. He smelled her fingers before pulling them into his mouth and this time she did whimper at how his tongue caressed them, slowly running between her two fingers, now wet from his mouth instead. She marveled at how he always hungrily devoured her and she couldn’t help but wiggle her butt against him.

“First warning kitten,” he told her, withdrawing her fingers from his mouth and curling his arm back around her with her own, both their arms now nestled just under her breasts. She stilled, biting her lip again as she contemplated the consequences. She could feel him grow even harder behind her and the temptation was almost more than she could bear. To make it worse, he moved and gently bit her ear, his beard tickling her shoulder. His tongue snaked out and licked the edge of her ear lobe. Her breathing quickened as she nibbled her lip, trying to stay still and be a good girl. Every touch and every move he made lit her on fire as he squeezed her breast, taking her nipple in between his fingers and squeezed, pulling on it. She couldn’t take it anymore as she cried out, thrusting her hips against his and he growled into her ear, biting it harder than before.

He flipped her onto her stomach and the pillow muffled her gasp. He moved the pillow and placed her hands above her head, telling her not to move. She knew what was coming and tried preparing herself, but she still screamed when he spanked her really hard once on each cheek. They were still stinging from his hand when he took the flesh from one cheek into his mouth and bit down, clenching the other in his hand. She had to grasp at the bedsheets to stop herself from moving. Sometimes she aimed to misbehave, but she didn’t want to misbehave too much.

He straddled her and placed his hand in her hair, taking a handful and pulling her head backward. “Has my kitten been naughty this morning?”

“Yes Daddy,” she answered breathily.

“What did you do?”

She shakily breathed in before speaking, “I woke Daddy up and then wiggled my ass against him.”

“That’s right. And does kitten know what happens when she ignores her warning?” His voice in her ear made her quiver and she bit her lip.

“Yes. I get fucked,” she whimpered.

“Good girl,” he said to her, kissing the top of her head and backing off. She felt the absence of him as she lay on her stomach, not moving her arms. She loved hearing those words from him and smiled dreamily. She heard him open a cap on something but didn’t turn to look. She shivered but otherwise didn’t move.

“Bend over the edge of the bed, arms still above your head and don’t move them,” he ordered. She slithered down until her feet touched the floor, ass in the chilly air. Without warning he inserted two fingers inside of her ass and she felt lube on them, and he must have warmed it up before touching her. She gasped and he opened her ass further sticking a third and then fourth finger in. She gritted her teeth and whimpered when he removed his fingers. They were replaced with the tip of his cock, slowly pushing its way inside. Her pussy was so wet and she wanted so badly to rub her clit as he claimed her ass, but she knew she couldn’t. His hands grasped her hips, finding flesh to squeeze as he slowly moved in and out, letting her get used to the feel of him. The lube made her slick and she shivered at the feeling of him inside her ass until he was all the way in and she cried out, clenching at the sheets.

Her clit was throbbing and begging to be touched and she moaned at the aching need. He moved faster, one of his hands abandoning her hips to grab her hair, wrapping it around his fist and pulling. She growled at the feeling of her hair being pulled, and he pulled tighter until her head moved backward and her back arched. He slammed into her harder now, and she loudly moaned with each thrust, her knuckles white, tightly clenching. She adjusted the angle of her hips slightly so her clit was resting against the edge of the bed and rubbed against it and she orgasmed from just a couple of thrusts, her body shaking. He knew what she was doing and he removed his hand from her hair, once again grabbing her hips with both hands and pulled her away from the bed.

“Bad girl,” he growled, pounding into her ass even harder, the sound of flesh hitting flesh drowned out by her cries.

She knew he was cumming when she felt him quiver and throb inside of her, and then she felt his cum hot inside of her ass and she shook with her own orgasm. He was still inside her when he leaned down and kissed her back, lightly scraping his teeth against her skin, making her shiver. When he pulled out his cum leaked down to the inside of her thighs. He inserted a couple of his fingers in her wet pussy, pressing his thumb against her swollen clit, and she came again, her cheek resting against the bed. He kept moving his fingers in and out of her, relentless with his thumb. She lost count of how many times she came, twitching as she was still bent over the bed. He withdrew his fingers, slick with her wetness. She obediently opened her mouth and sucked on his fingers, tasting herself.

“Thank you Daddy,” she whispered, closing her eyes, satiated.

“You’re welcome baby,” he said to her, kissing the tip of her nose. “Come, let’s shower.” He helped ease her into standing and she was a little shaky. She rested her head on his chest for a moment before walking with him to the shower. She leaned against the wall as he turned on the water and tested it for her, making sure it wasn’t too hot. He held out his hand and she took it, smiling at him. He helped her into the shower, and grabbed the bar of soap, turning it over in his hands to get a lather going. He gently ran the soap up and down each of her arms, moving to suds her breasts, her stomach, and in between her thighs. She bit her lip when he got to that point, the entire area still sensitive. He moved to wash her ass taking care to be gentle, moving down her legs. He placed the soap on a ledge and massaged her legs on the way back up and she sighed, loving his attentions. His hands massaged her hips where his fingers had dug in earlier, moving up to gently kneed her breasts.

He then took her in his arms in a warm embrace, the water at her back as his fingernails lightly scratched it. She could stay here forever in his arms, his caring hold on her mind and body. She tilted her head up to him and he bent his down, their lips touching in a light kiss. She didn’t bite his lip this time, she didn’t want to ruin this sweet moment. She squeezed against him, nothing sexual about it, only the desire to be close to him. He kissed the top of her head and she smiled, nestling her head on his chest. She could live with these consequences from being naughty earlier and looked forward to the next time she misbehaved.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

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Awen prowled outside of Gabriella’s door. She wondered if Gabriella knew she was there. She wanted to go in. She always stopped short. Gabriella’s last words had been haunting her for weeks. Somewhere in there was a spot of love for her, although it had become dark and twisted, just like the rest of her. She wanted to go in there and show her who was boss. No talking. She didn’t want to feel anything other than anger. It was anger that fed her now, made her feel whole. Every night she paced outside of the door. Willing herself to go inside. She couldn’t do it. She felt broken.

 

Gabriella listened with an ear to the door, just like she did every night. She could hear Awen pacing outside of her door. She wanted her to come in. She wanted her love. She had realized being here that she never thought about her husband. She wondered if she had ever loved him in the first place. She had respected and admired him, and didn’t want him hurt. She supposed she loved him in a way, but it wasn’t on the same level as she felt for Awen. She felt terrible for betraying her family, but on some level she thought she would do it again given a chance. She stood there as long as Awen walked in front of her door over and over again. She held her breath every time she paused directly in front of the door. But she didn’t come in and eventually Gabriella heard her footsteps fade away and not return. A tear slipped down her cheek. She felt she would go mad if she kept thinking about the past. She felt responsible for so many things.

She brooded on the chair, a leg thrown carelessly over the arm of it. She fell asleep that way and regretted it when she woke up in the middle of the night with a stiff neck. She moved to the bed and curled up on her side in the blanket, tucking it all around her, with an arm under her head. She lay awake staring at the room she was kept in. It was majestic, but she felt alone. She fell into a disturbed sleep plagued by terrible nightmares and sweet dreams, all mixed together.

Gabriella was listening at the door the next night. Awen was pacing again. She stopped in front of the door and was there for a long time. Finally, the knob turned. It was an eternity before the door slowly pushed open. Gabriella stepped back as the door opened. She swallowed when she saw Awen standing there. She wore dark eye makeup and her hair was half tied back. She wore a short gold colored dress that accented her skin color. The dress came so high up on her thighs that it barely covered her ass. The sleeves were long and opened up after the elbow so that it was looser at her wrists. The scoop neck barely covered Awen’s nipples, which were hard at the edge of the fabric. Gabriella’s throat was dry and she tried swallowing again.

Awen kicked the door shut and walked around Gabriella, trailing her finger along the top of her shoulder blades. “You need to be punished,” Awen purred in a low voice, making Gabriella’s insides tighten. She continued to circle her, touching different parts of her body as she did so; her forearm, her ass, the nape of her neck. Gabriella started trembling at her touches. “But no talking,” Awen stated, pulling a ball gag from her dress between her breasts. Awen watched Gabriella as she inserted the ball into her mouth and fastened the strap. Gabriella was breathing hard through her nose.

Awen kicked the back of Gabriella’s knees and she fell, bracing herself with her palms. She grunted, the pain sharp. Awen walked deeper into the room and when she reappeared in front of her, she was holding a flogger. She must have hidden it in the room somewhere.

“You are mine,” Awen seethed. “I’m going to make you remember that. I’m going to make you know that for forever, you are mine.” She walked behind Gabriella, who was still on her hands and knees. Awen roughly lifted her dress and lowered her panties, striking fiercely at Gabriella’s ass. She screamed, the gag muffling most of her sound. Awen swung the flogger over and over again, cracking the ends on her skin. Gabriella started crying, the pain more than she could bear. She deserved this. She had betrayed Awen, and she would take every punishment that she gave her. She had broken her heart.

Awen ripped Gabriella’s dress and panties off of her and she was left nude. The cold air was hitting her nipples, making them hard as her breasts were hanging from her position. Awen ordered her to get up and she complied as quickly as she could.

“Go to the bed,” Awen commanded. Gabriella walked over to the bed and faced her. “Put your arms over your head.” Awen took the ripped dress and tied Gabriella’s hands to the bed posts with it. She whipped Gabriella’s breasts with the flogger and she screamed. The pain was more intense than her ass being whipped. Awen was not gentle and marks immediately formed. Gabriella was crying and saliva was dripping from her mouth. Awen stopped whipping her to bite the fleshy mounds with her sharp teeth, making Gabriella sob. All she could think about was the pain and that she deserved it. She wept from the pain of past, and the present. For the pain she had caused.

Awen continued marking her body with a viciousness that was palpable. She was causing just enough pain to leave bruising and other marks, but not hard enough to cause permanent damage. Gabriella loved her for that. The love she felt offset the intensity of Awen’s bites and slaps. She understood where the rage came from and she forgave her for that. Gabriella wanted to make it up to her, but she knew nothing would suffice so she took what she was given. She would never forget again.

Awen licked Gabriella’s tears from her face as she took the ball gag off. She took her chin firmly in her hand, her fingers squeezing. “You. Are. Mine,” she enunciated each word on its own, her face so close that Gabriella felt her hot breath on her face.

“Yes,” Gabriella choked out.

Awen claimed her mouth with a ferocity Gabriella had never experienced, her tongue hot and thrusting in her mouth. Awen grabbed her hair and yanked backward, exposing her throat, continuing to kiss her. Awen’s hand closed around her throat, crushing. Awen stopped the kiss and watched as Gabriella’s face turned red and started jerking involuntarily from the lack of air. Gabriella wondered if she was going to kill her. She would die at the hand of her love, in her hand. It was fitting. She felt like a part of her had died anyway the day she had forsaken Awen. She finally let go and Gabriella drew in a long, rasping breath.

“I can’t kill you,” Awen whispered. “I’ve wanted to.”

“I’m sorry,” Gabriella whispered back, her voice rough.

“You haven’t suffered nearly enough,” Awen said, turning away from her.

Gabriella had nothing to say. She agreed. She could only stare at Awen as tears fell, blurring her vision. Her body hurt; a mass of angry red marks. She was cold but didn’t dare say anything. There had been nothing sexual about this encounter. It was brutal domination, and Gabriella understood Awen’s need of it. She had created this monster.

Awen turned back to her and released her arms and hands from their bondage on the bed without saying anything. Her face was a mask and Gabriella tried to see any semblance of emotion. She saw nothing. She didn’t even see Awen’s hand pull back to give her a powerful smack in the face, her head whipping to the side with the force. She kept her head there, not daring to look. She heard Awen leave but she stood there for a long time, feeling the absence. She would rather be in the throes of suffering with her than alone and without her. A part of her wondered if there was something wrong with her for feeling that way, but she shoved it aside.

She crawled into the bed with her aching body. It was hard to move. She was numb for a long time before she started sobbing. She finally stopped when she felt like there were no more tears left. Her eyes were puffy and she wondered if Awen would ever forgive her. They could live happily. They used to bring each other so much joy and happiness and Gabriella yearned to have that back.

The next night, Awen entered her room again to punish her. She was physically punishing her, never bringing any kind of emotion into the act, or anything sexual. She understood that Awen was showing her a physical suffering where Awen had suffered mentally. All Gabriella wanted to do was hold her, but she wouldn’t allow it. Gabriella wasn’t allowed to speak. Every time Awen left her bedroom chamber, Gabriella broke down sobbing. She cried in front of her too. She felt the pain and the absence of Awen. Her body was sore and her mind was completely broken after a week, but she kept coming to her bedchamber every night, reenacting her torture in different ways.

Gabriella couldn’t bear to think about her children. She did once, and she nearly lost her mind. She felt like she was losing her mind anyway. She wondered if her atonement would ever be over. Would she have to pay for this her entire life? She had never really thought about it when she’d been away from Awen, but her imprisonment was making her think about all of this all over again.

Awen returned that night, and instead of tying Gabriella up like she had been doing, she ordered Gabriella to sit on the chair and then stood in front of her, watching her with hooded eyes. She was wearing a mask. Her face was unreadable. She bent down so that she was eye level with Gabriella. “Do you love me?” Awen asked, revealing nothing of herself.

Gabriella swallowed thickly. “Yes,” she answered simply, gazing back.

“How would you prove it to me?”

“I-I don’t know,” Gabriella stuttered.

“Have you learned your lesson?”

“Yes, I have,” Gabriella softly said.

Awen stood up straight again. She untied the gold silk robe she was wearing. Gabriella could tell that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath the thin material. She opened it and let it slink down to the floor. Gabriella couldn’t breathe. It had been so long since she had seen that body, and it still looked the same. Her darker skin was immaculate, with no blemishes or scarring of any kind. Gabriella longed to touch her. She almost reached her hand out, but she knew she had no control. She was a slave, and rightly so. She couldn’t do anything without permission.

“Touch me,” Awen commanded, her voice whisper soft.

Gabriella stood, slowly circling her, dragging her fingertips along Awen’s skin, lightly. It was almost as though the wind was simply rushing by. She ran her fingers up from Awen’s wrist to her shoulder, and over across her back, then down again the other arm. She was facing Awen again, who had her eyes closed. Gabriella’s hands shook as she reached out and touched Awen’s sides, a more firm touch. She could feel how tight she kept her body; as though if she released any tension she might wilt away. They were both hurt. Awen was trying to heal the way she knew how. Gabriella knew it was destructive, but she couldn’t help herself. She was a marionette on the strings. Gabriella leaned in for a kiss but Awen’s eyes snapped open and her hand was instantly grasping Gabriella’s jaw, holding her in place.

“I didn’t say to do that. I told you to touch me.” Awen released her and they both stood there. Gabriella was frozen. She had only been doing what she felt was natural. But Awen was too broken to allow for her intimacy. “I can’t do this,” Awen said, rushing from the room, leaving her robe where it lay on the floor.

 

Awen ran down the hall to her own bedchamber where she flung the door closed, rampaging like a madwoman. Glass shattered she swept everything off the end tables and the bookshelves. Broken glass made her feet bleed but she barely felt it. Emotion was bubbling up and she was panicking. She didn’t know what to do. She was screaming and she cried. She was a broken woman starting to feel again and she couldn’t handle it. Gabriella had broken through. She needed to feel the darkness again. She called to a halfling and when he came to her she ate him alive. She feasted on his flesh as he screamed and she welcomed the sound. Her teeth ripped him to shreds until she hit the bones. She sat on broken glass, covered in his blood and her own, bloated and feeling the dark.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

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Zaria awoke to the sound of fighting outside of her window. She rushed over in her nightgown to see that they were just practicing in the courtyard. The soldiers from the groups took turns fighting in the protective bubbles in the morning and into the afternoon. The late afternoon and evening was Zaria’s turn with Thirsten and today she had a renewed purpose. She had just woken up late and wasn’t used to still being in her room when the fighting started. She chose an outfit for the day, a light pink long-sleeved dress. She would change later when it was time to train. Her skin was buzzing, ready for the chance to get into the sphere with him. She stood under the fresh mountain water, trying to calm herself as she washed her hair. When she was finished, she braided her long hair then wound it up with some tendrils escaping.

She padded down to the kitchen and grabbed a plateful of eggs, bacon, and an avocado with a mug of steaming hot tea. No one else that she knew was there so she sat alone, brimming with energy. Energy work took a lot out of her, so she always ate a lot, going back for a second plate. When she sat back down, a soldier sat across from her, with black hair and green eyes.

“Hello there, little lady. That’s a mighty fine dress you got there. You must be from this compound,” he said, staring at her breasts. She blushed from the attention and started saying she wasn’t from here at all, but a different soldier butted in, this one with blonde hair and brown eyes.

“You idiot!” He clapped the first soldier on the back. “That’s the princess you’re talking to!”

Zaria blushed even harder. It embarrassed her to be called out as the princess.

The black haired fairy choked on his tea. “Pardon me, Your Majesty. I meant no harm.” He started getting up from the table but Zaria held out her hand.

“It’s fine. You can stay. I’m finished anyway,” she gave him a small smile as she got up from the table and disposed of her dishes. She could hear the guffaw of the second fairy and she sighed. Was it going to be this way from then on? How had her father handled the fame of being a king? Had he liked it? She didn’t want to think about what her mother thought of being royalty. She still couldn’t forgive her. She didn’t know if she would ever get used to the fame of being a princess. Zaria rushed from the dining room, finding her way to the library. She immersed herself in a book about the history of this area. There had already been some fairies living here when Thirsten found the place, and they had elected him as a leader because of his background. The compound had been built into the side of the mountain 600 years ago by a group seeking refuge from a tyrannical king in a kingdom different from the one she was from.

Thirsten found her there, curled up in a chair reading the heavy leather bound book. He tapped her lightly on the shoulder and even so, she started. “I’m sorry,” he said in a rumbling laugh. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s okay. I was just very involved in reading this. Did you know it took them 20 years of magical work just to carve out the mountain?” She placed a bookmark at her stopping page and set it down on the oak table in front of her. She yawned and stretched her arms.

“Yes, I did. I’ve read that book too. I’ve had a lot of time to read the books in this room. Even started writing one of my own,” he mused.

“Is it about our war with Awen?”

“It is,” his deep voice said, smiling sadly at her. “Are you ready to train?”

“It’s past lunch?” She frowned, only now realizing that her stomach rumbled.

“We can grab a snack before we start if you like.”

Zaria nodded. “Yes, please.” They made their way to the dining room and grabbed some snacks of just dried up beef and some cheese. The protein would be good before the workout. They got to the empty courtyard but Zaria could hear the soldiers outside of the walls. It sounded like several groups were singing, and probably enjoying some mead for their noon meal. She stretched her arms and rolled her shoulders and her head along her neck, from one side to the other and back again. She loosened the tension she felt and stretched her back. Thirsten put up the shield and she pulled an enormous amount of energy. She felt it from the snow, from the trees, from the dark matter in the sky above her head. She concentrated on it, on the atoms and what each one felt like. She threw a huge attack at Thirsten’s bubble, knowing that the energy would go back to the places she got it from. Just a few atoms from each place so nothing died.

“Good work,” he grunted as he felt the attack. “That’s your best yet. I knew last night would make you feel better.”

Zaria pulled more and more energy with a ferocity that she had never felt before. Energy was constantly being pulled into and through and out of her body and she collapsed to her knees. “Maybe that was a little too much,” she gasped. She held up her palm, stopping him from helping her up. “I’m fine, we can continue. I just need a moment.” This was double what she had been doing with Gareth. Her heart hurt all of a sudden, but she used that to increase the intensity of her attacks. She wanted him back and she used that emotion to continuously attack Thirsten’s impenetrable bubble. Once he saw that she was fine, he pushed her harder and kept her going longer than the night before. He was seeing the impact that their nature adventure had had on her. He kept her going long after the last meal had been served to the soldiers, but knew they would still have a hot meal.

She was feeling weak and he helped her hobble to the kitchen. He lowered her to a chair and hollered for Mindy, his head chef. She came bustling in from the pantry, muttering first to herself, then to him.

“You worked her nearly to death,” the fiery old fairy said to him, her hands on her hips and Zaria let out a weak laugh.

“Give him hell,” she said, grinning tiredly.

Mindy shook her head and went off to get Zaria some meat and potatoes. This time it was ham with sweet potatoes. It was a heaping plateful, and a large glass of water. Zaria’s hand shook as she drank her water, then dug into the food. She moaned with a mouthful of potatoes and told Mindy that it was all delicious. Thirsten’s plate was just as full of hers, but he ate his faster, shoveling food into his mouth. Zaria only shook her head.

“Feeling any better?” He asked after sipping some mead.

“Yes, much. Thank you. I’m energized now,” she laughed, amazed at how good she felt. It must have been her renewed conviction at what they were doing and what they were trying to accomplish. After such a workout she should have been decimated. She didn’t know if she would be able to sleep and was talking to Thirsten when Hans ran in, breathless.

“Sir!”

“Yes Hans?” Thirsten answered, rising from the table, ready for action.

“Another group has just reached the encampment. They are from two former kingdoms over. They brought men and food.”

Thirsten nodded, motioning to Zaria to follow them. She was glad for something to do and rose from the table as well. Mindy removed their now empty plates and Zaria thanked her. They walked out to see about the new group that came in, weaving their way through tents where fairies were snoring, and some hushed conversations still happening around dying embers. There were nods of respect to Thirsten as he passed through. As experienced earlier, not all of the fairies knew who Zaria was, or what the long lost princess looked like. And that was just fine with her. They got to the new group and the leader got off of his horse, bowing to Thirsten and Zaria. They returned the bow and Thirsten and the newcomer hugged, smiling at each other. It was apparent they knew each other.

Zaria smiled agreeably while they said some general pleasantries, standing off to the background. Thirsten motioned towards her. “This is Princess Zaria, the lady who is going to take back the crown.” Zaria blushed fiercely as the man bowed and at Thirsten’s words, who then turned to her. “This is Nigel. We worked together many years ago, fighting against those bastards. He got that scar on his face by the false queen herself. She wasn’t afraid to pick up a blade and cause bodily harm in addition to magic.” Zaria noticed the man’s scar than went from the edge of his eyebrow, down his cheek, and to his jaw bone. Zaria swallowed, feeling sick.

“Nice to meet you,” she strangled out. Sometimes the gravity of the situation hit her harder than other times. Inevitably, she thought of her mother loving this horrible woman and shuddered. “I’m glad to have you on our team. Thank you so much for coming.” She said what was expected of her, but she didn’t know if she meant it.

“How many men do you bring?” Thirsten asked, hooking his thumbs into his belt loops.

“I bring 20,000. Many were interested in helping liberate our lands from this evil bitch and reclaiming them once again. We also have women in our group. They are good fighters. The women mostly work magic, but not all of them. All of us are trained in hand to hand combat as well as magic. We are happy to help,” Nigel said, his voice deeper than Thirsten’s. He brushed his long white hair back from his face with his chin slightly in the air. It was clear he was proud of the work he had done with his team. Zaria was feeling tired then and bade her goodnight of the men, shaking hands and being polite when she just felt like falling over as the day caught up with her in a rush. She made it back to her bedroom and watched the stars again, hearing the faraway noises of men talking and singing. She fell asleep with her head turned towards them, thankful that yet another caravan had arrived with fairies to help her. They were going to need it, after seeing the power of Awen’s magic.

 

Thirsten was in the library with Nigel, enjoying a brandy before retreating to his room. “I’m sorry there’s no spare rooms for you here,” he remarked, watching his old friend roll the glass in his large hand.

“It’s okay. I would rather be with my team. I’ll let them rest for a couple of days before we start training again. It was a long journey to this kingdom,” Nigel answered in his deep timbre. His skin was pale as pale was, never tanning or burning from the sunlight. He would almost be albino except for his shocking electric blue eyes.

“I can understand that. It’s a long journey for you and your men and women. We all really appreciate any help that we can get.” Thirsten took a swig of his liquor, feeling the burn all the way down.

“Indeed.” Nigel was quiet for a moment. “So–does she know?”

Thirsten immediately knew what the question entailed. He sighed heavily. He hadn’t wanted to think about this. He feared the reactions that it would give people. “No. I haven’t told her.”

“Are you going to?” Nigel asked, looking at Thirsten although he didn’t look back. He was staring down at the amber colored liquid.

Thirsten didn’t answer for several minutes. With a heavy heart, he replied in the negative. “I don’t think she could handle it. I don’t think anyone could. The world would be devastated if they knew.”

Nigel nodded slowly. “Yeah. I can see that. People are going to find out, though.” He then whispered, “I’m sure she’s kept him alive. Just to torture…everyone. Who knows what kind of state he’s in.” With that, Nigel swallowed back the rest of his brandy, setting the glass tumbler gently back down on the table in front of them.

“I don’t know,” Thirsten replied. He also knocked back the rest of the fiery liquid. “I don’t know how Zaria will react when she learns her father is still alive. Everyone thinks he’s dead.”

“We tried,” Nigel shook his head, as though shaking away memories.

The memories were alive in Thirsten’s head, seared in. He still had dreams about that night sometimes. Awen had sent in her halflings to kill everyone in the village first, with orders to keep the former king alive, as well as his family. Nigel and Thirsten had been the only two fairies left fighting off the halflings when Awen had shown up. She had never been physically present during these raids before. She had been enraged to learn that Gabriella had escaped the village with Aria, and that Zaria was missing. She had nearly exploded with magic, taking her frustrations out on the halflings that had surrounded her, felling them in one fell swoop of an energy blast. Thirsten and Nigel had Brock behind them, protecting him from her. She had picked up a scythe from one of her fallen halfings and slashed at Nigel’s face. She had looked at Thirsten with a deadly look and stated that she was taking the former king with her.

Thirsten had said over his dead body. She told him she could make that happen. Before he had a chance to reply, she removed his power, sucking his chi dry until he couldn’t feel the earth below him. It was the most uncomfortable feeling, not being connected. Tears ran down his face at the loss. Awen had then knocked him out cold. When he awoke, Awen and Brock were long gone. Nigel had stitched up his own face and was burying what was left of the dead. He left the halflings to rot. They mourned, and then each had gone his separate way. Thirsten had ended up in this mountainside town, with Nigel halfway across the continent. They had kept in touch every once in a while. This was the first time they had seen each other since that night. There was a somber silence around the both of them as they remembered. Witnessing Awen’s terror was the thing of nightmares, and it wasn’t a wonder if the former king had lost his mind in all of that time. He undoubtedly had.

Chapter Twenty-Six

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Zaria had spent the last several weeks recovering, and slowly training until she was fully healed. Her alone time had been spent practicing the work outs that her and Gareth had worked on together. It seemed like such a long time ago now that she had discovered her love for him, and accepted it. She constantly felt the sting of her mother’s betrayal, no matter how much she tried to get past it. She moved to do some yoga, to hopefully clear her mind. The fighting poses were making her angry. Maybe she needed the anger to be able to beat Awen. But she didn’t want to use anger. She didn’t want to end up like the evil fae that had destroyed so many lives.

She was in downward dog pose on the mat with her eyes closed, breathing into the pose when she heard footsteps enter the courtyard she was in. She opened her eyes and saw Thirsten from in between her legs, walking up to her. She took a breath and eased out of the pose, turning to look at him. She took a sip of water and smiled at him.

“How are you doing?” His deep timbre reminded her of her father. Once she met him, she had a slight recollection of him from her childhood. His hair was more grey now, his black beard peppered with it. His eyes were still the same greyish blue, but with more wrinkles around them. Thirsten had been her father’s chief of war when Brock had been king and Zaria was training with him now. He didn’t know how to pull from the universe like she did, but he had valuable advice on fighting that she had needed. With his guidance, she was holding more power than she ever had before, and channeling it more effectively. Gareth had taught her a lot, but Thirsten’s training was honing in, like a finely tuned instrument.

“Good. Stretching out with some yoga. I feel amazing and strong,” she replied as she took another swig of water. It was dehydrating and demanding work and she needed to replenish frequently.

“But you aren’t impenetrable. Never forget that. No one is infallible. Once you start thinking you are, you will fail in the worst sort of way,” he said as lightly as he could, given that his words were heavy with dangerous implications.

Zaria nodded, a hand on her hip. “I understand.”

“Good. Let’s get to work.”

He created a giant protective bubble that encompassed nearly the entire courtyard, which was large, several hundred yards. The bubble’s purpose was to absorb shocks and attacks. It was a method of training that had been used for millennia. Thirsten would feel the power and force behind the attacks but they wouldn’t hurt him. The bubble shimmered an aqua color as Zaria pulled more and more atoms into her chi. She held herself loosely with her eyes closed, concentrating on how the power was rushing into her. She stopped when she thought she was going to break apart, and opened her eyes.

Thirsten took the cue that she was ready and commanded, “Show me what you’ve got,” with his arms crossed.

She nodded once and with control flung her arm upwards, sending everything she had at the bubble, hitting with a show of purple. As she sent the attack, she pulled in new power. She attacked over and over again in quick succession as she released power and pulled it in. This was something she hadn’t done before, and it was draining. He kept her going for three hours without a break. “You don’t get a break on the battlefield,” were his favorite words to her, even when she could barely stand anymore from exhaustion. It was hard, preparing for war. She didn’t know if she was going to make it. He let her take a short break before getting her going again.

He finally called it quits a little before dinner. She was shaking and weak, and greatly needed the sustenance. He helped her get back to her room in the compound, and she promptly collapsed on the bed. Her sweat was starting to dry and she knew she had to take a shower before eating. She lay there for a few minutes and then moved off the bed with a grunt. She drank more water and grabbed some clothes and a towel and headed to one of the more private bathrooms used by the leaders of the community and resistance. The compound was chock full as groups had been flocking from all over to join the war. They were all agreeable once they found out that the princess lived and wanted to take back the throne. There were so many fairies that they had started setting up camp outside the small compound.

Zaria closed the door to the simple but gorgeous bathroom and started removing her sticky tunic and pants, gathering her hair up in a clip. The bathroom was white and silver, with ribbons of black. The white tiles had thin black swirls painted upon them and the taps were silver. She ran the water and stepped under, sighing in relief as the hot water splashed on her skin. She slowly washed the sweat off with a honey and oatmeal bar of soap, a gift from one of the fairies here. She had received many gifts, having been discovered as the long lost princess. She still had trouble with the title, and didn’t know if she wanted it. She was only doing this because evil like Awen couldn’t be allowed to exist, and she wanted the people she loved to be safe.

She washed her hair with a similar honey shampoo and conditioner before turning the tap off and drying her body. She donned a silken jade colored dress with a moderate neckline and long sleeves that got wider towards her hands. The skirt swirled around her legs and she put on a pair of matching slippers, her hair entwined in the bath towel to dry. She went back to her room and flopped back on the bed as she waited for dinner time. She hated being alone. It was in times like these she missed Gareth so much her heart hurt, and wondered how he was. If he was here with her, they would have been cuddling and talking until they ate, their fingers locked together and bodies pressed as close as possible. They would talk about the training they had just done, how they could improve and what they had done well. She tried socializing with the other people here and had grown close to Rishtah and Thirsten, but it wasn’t the same.

Zaria sighed and got up from the bed, removing the towel and running her fingers through her damp locks. She had been moved from the initial room she had been kept in, which had been in the sick bay in the circular compound with part of a side built into a mountain. Now she was on the upper floor, with a bedroom and closet to herself. Most of the other fairies here were sharing rooms and every room was full. Her room was grey, silver, and jade. The bedspread was the beautiful green with silver painted wood as the bed frame, footboard, and headboard. The room was full of gifts she had been given, cluttered everywhere.

She left the room behind and walked to the large dining hall. It was jam packed almost all of the time and the kitchen help was constantly cooking as fairies moved in and out of the room and consumed a large amount of food every day. Thankfully new groups brought in more food to share. She got to jump in line, and sat at a reserved table with Rishtah, Thirsten, and some others. She didn’t pay much attention to the conversation as she ate the roast beef with cooked carrots, mashed potatoes, and raw bell peppers. It was flavorful and she relished it. Every time she ate a meal here she thought it was the best tasting meal she had ever had. She let the conversation flow around her. They had a meeting later that night anyway. She was more interested in talking about business rather than pleasantries. They politely let her be in her own world rather than a part of theirs for the moment, knowing she had the most on her mind. The people at the table were aware of her mother’s transgression.

After eating, Zaria and the others adjourned to the war room. It was a large room with an oak table at the center. There were spells of protection engraved deep into the wood. The spells made it so that only those sitting at the table could hear the conversation. The repercussions for repeating anything talked about unless there was explicit permission were dangerous and horrible, depending on the severity of the betrayal. Thirsten had told of someone who had starved to death after backstabbing one of his farmers no matter how much he had eaten.

Thirsten was seated at the head of the table, with Rishtah to his left and Zaria to his right. The leaders of the other groups that had come in were around the table as well. Zaria was having trouble remembering their names. She was preoccupied with other thoughts. Thirsten turned to her and said, “I’ve seen a lot of improvement from you in the last couple of weeks. I am so proud of you, and I know your father would be too.”

Zaria blinked back tears at his comment. She missed her father dearly. “Thank you so much for that.” She cleared her throat. “When do you think the other groups are going to be here?”

“We received word that it will be another couple of weeks until they are here from other former kingdoms. We will let them rest after their journey before we leave for the queen’s castle.” Thirsten paused a moment. “Your castle,” he amended, reaching to put his hand over hers, as though that was a comfort. She hadn’t told anyone her thoughts on not wanting to rule. No one other than Gareth.

She nodded. “So I have another couple of weeks to train?” She felt stronger than ever, but wondered if she would ever be ready. She hated fighting and violence.

“Yes. You will be fine. You’re a quick learner and you’ve picked up on what I’ve been showing you exceedingly well. I believe we will win.” Thirsten appeared so confident but all she could think about was how to keep the people she loved safe. That’s all she wanted. She didn’t want to be the princess. She didn’t want to be in the middle of a war.

Zaria tuned in and out for the rest of the meeting. She had heard these plans a million times. They were going to wait for the rest of the fairies to gather from other areas, and then march to the castle. It was about three days from this spot. They were going to tell the new leaders coming in the plan. They were going to surround the queen’s castle and the encampment and attack all at once. They would be about 100,000 strong. It didn’t seem like much, but they would have the element of surprise on their side. Zaria would sneak in throughout all of the confusion and find her family, freeing them, before her and Gareth attacked the queen and took her out once and for all. She was nervous. She didn’t know the castle, but Thirsten would be at her side. In only five weeks she had come to trust him like her own family. He told her stories about her dad, which was bittersweet for her.

Thirsten touched her elbow and she jumped, realizing with a start that the table was empty. “I’m sorry,” she said, with a small, embarrassed smile.

“I understand,” he said gently, laying his hand on hers. It was a fatherly gesture that she appreciated. “I know that you’re distracted by thinking about the safety of your family. You weren’t around when this all started, but we were all effected in similar ways. Families were split up, sometimes permanently. My child died, and I haven’t seen my wife in over 100 years. I still don’t know if she died, or if she’s still alive somewhere. I used to have the same problem you do right now. I couldn’t think straight, I was inconsolable, and I couldn’t pay attention to anyone or anything around me. The good thing is, this is almost over.” Thirsten squeezed her hand, continuing on. “I know you can do this. I’ve seen the strength in you, just like everyone has. Like Gareth has. He’s still alive, and so is your sister, and your mother. Awen won’t kill them right now. She needs them to draw you in.”

“I don’t care much about my mother at the moment.” Thirsten nodded as she took a deep breath. “But she could harm my sister and Gareth. Bring them to the brink of death, torture them. She’s good at that,” Zaria muttered, tears threatening to spill over.

“I understand about your mother, and that very well could be. We just don’t know right now. I know it’s hard, maybe it seems impossible, but try not to think about that right now.”

Zaria got caught up with the rest of what he said in her mind, and said in a delayed response, “I’m really sorry about your wife and child. I hope your wife is okay, somewhere.”

Thirsten looked at her for a moment. “I tell you what, I want to take you somewhere. I think it will help you get your mind off of everything for a little while. It might put your mind in perspective,” he said, standing, offering his hand.

Zaria took it and they walked in an easy silence, each to their own thoughts. They walked through a little passage that Zaria thought looked like it wasn’t traveled by many people very often. It was just clean enough that someone did come through the passage on occasion. It was lit by softly glowing orbs in a blue hue. “These are interesting. What are they?”

“We used to use these lights in the castle. It’s just a little bit of energy that we put in them and it lasts for a long time. Most people who worked at the castle don’t even remember them. It was special to the castle. Everyone wondered about them, but no one outside knew how they worked or where we got them from,” he answered softly.

They walked for a while longer before they got to a door that led outside. Zaria figured they must have been gone through part of the mountain, and it had felt like they had been walking at a steady but slight incline, and they walked out into a paradise on the side of the mountain. They were high enough and far enough away that the glow from the camps around Thirsten’s home didn’t affect the stars too much. She could see thousands of them. They were standing side by side and she put an arm around him, drawing him close for a moment before letting him go. Tears pricked at her eyes. In addition to the clear night sky, they had gone far enough up that there was snow. It wasn’t too cold, but the air had a chilly bite. There was a waterfall next to them, partially frozen with some water still trickling out in a steady stream.

It was beautiful. She saw a snow fox dashing in and out of the snow, and a little further off in the fir trees there was a doe, its watchful eyes assessing threats, its little tail swishing. She felt the pull of nature all around her, strengthened by the powerful fairy next to her. Thirsten pulled a little magic and shrouded them in a bit of warmth so they could stand there longer. She watched the stars and the nature around her, and she did feel her perspective changing. This is what she was trying to save. Being within the compound directly after trauma had changed her and she had forgotten. Forgotten what it was to be one with nature, one with the magic she used every day.

They stood there silently, just observing. A tiny mouse popped up from under the snow, its whiskers tasting the air, and then was scooped up by a snowy owl. The magic was all around her, the atoms and molecules moving around and she felt it all as she closed her eyes, drawing in more of the energy. She expanded her chi and she could feel it whirling inside of her. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

“You’re welcome. I come here any time I need to clear my head. If I’m thinking too much or something is bothering me. If I need an answer about something I come here. We are connected to nature on a deep level, us fairies. We need it, or else we go mad. Awen-she’s destroying us. Somehow she feeds off of destruction. She didn’t used to be that way. Her father used to be my mentor. He didn’t talk about her very often, but when he did, he talked about what a sweet girl she used to be. But she is who she is now, and if she wins, this will all be gone.”

She didn’t answer immediately, but eventually said, “I know. I just hope that what I have is enough. I don’t want my world to die.” He squeezed her shoulder before leaving her alone in the chilly air, and Zaria pulled some warmth around her. Once Thirsten left, a fluffy white bunny came up to her. She picked him up and he sniffed her face before letting her pet his thick, soft fur. She could feel his rapid heartbeat, and she wondered how she could let all of this beautiful life die. Animals started coming up to her as though sensing her distress. She had forgotten what it was like to have animals being drawn to her when she was in nature, alone. She pet each of them before turning around and going back through the tunnel. She felt grateful to Thirsten for bringing her here.

She got back to the room she was staying in and quietly shut the door. She prepared for bed and climbed in between the sheets, gazing out of the window at the stars she had forgotten about. How senseless was it to take power from them and forget to respect them? Was that the path to becoming like Awen? She fell asleep to their soft glow and dreamed about their power.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Aria gasped and tried running to see her father, but Awen stopped her in her tracks by holding her arm out, palm as though flat against a wall. She felt choked for breath. Her father didn’t say anything, didn’t move. Aria couldn’t speak and she clawed at her throat even though nothing was physically there. Finally she fell to her knees again, almost passing out before Awen released her.

“Never forget who’s in charge here,” Awen intoned. Aria could only wheeze in reply as she tried to catch her breath, her heart beating out of her chest. Awen was carefully watching Gabriella as she walked over to Brock holding a knife. She cut into his skin on top of old scars. Gabriella cried, begging and apologizing. “I’ve kept him alive this entire time and you had no idea. I’ve tortured him, starved him, beaten him. I have broken him, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I kept him on the brink of death, letting him heal just enough until I knew he wouldn’t die the next time I tore into him.”

“Please,” Gabriella rasped, crawling on her knees as far as the chain allowed, and it wasn’t far enough. She stopped just short of being able to touch him.

“You’ll never touch him again,” Awen scowled.

“I’ll do anything,” Gabriella pleaded. “I’ll be your slave!”

“Mother no!” Aria screamed. How could her mother offer such a thing? Aria was once again silenced, and knew that her presence here was inconsequential. This was all for her mother, this show. Aria didn’t understand. Awen loved her mother? A million thoughts tumbled through her mind and she could barely grasp onto them before they fell away. Aria felt sick to her stomach. She didn’t know how much more she could take.

“I’m sorry Awen, I’m so sorry. I should have stayed with you. I know that now,” Gabriella whispered, barely loud enough for Aria to hear. “I did this do you. I made you this way.” She beseechingly stared up at Awen.

Awen didn’t say anything, just stared down at her, her face becoming an impenetrable mask of coldness. “And you’ll pay for it,” Awen whispered back, but still not showing any emotion. With that, she turned and walked away, out of the room, leaving behind blood and destruction. Gabriella hung her head, sobbing. She didn’t even seem to notice Aria’s presence. She was once again being led by guards and she heard the whispering of the halflings in the room but couldn’t know the words. Her mind was too busy trying to sort out what she had witnessed between her mother and the evil queen. She was stuffed back into the cell and given a meager meal of some kind of slop and a piece of crusty bread.

A short time later, she heard footsteps again, and leapt to her feet, gripping the cold bars and pressing her small face between two of them. She saw Gareth being led by four guards. He was limp in between the grip of two of them and still wearing the mask. They forced her to move backwards and they unlocked her cell, dumping him unceremoniously inside, throwing a small bag at her. She looked inside and saw a sewing kit as well as alcohol and bandages. Why would they do this much damage only to fix him? Gareth remained motionless on his stomach. Some of the wounds were still bleeding.

She cleaned her hands with the alcohol, and was thankful that he was passed out. She knew this would hurt. At first her hands shook as she threaded the needle, but quickly gained her confidence as she mended his torn back, trying to stitch him back together as best she could. She finally finished and taped bandages to his back, which would have to work until he awoke and she could wrap him completely in them. She cleaned her hands of the blood and threw the bloody rags in the corner that held her empty dinner bowl. She tried to see if she could remove the mask, but there was no way to get it off. There was no lock and no way to pull it over his head. It was as though it was melded on. She sat next to him and waited.

Aria ate another couple of meals and slept next to him by the time he came to. He groaned, his breath catching when he tried to move and the pain caught him. Aria gently put an arm on his bicep. “Be careful.”

“Aria?” Gareth asked, his voice full of pain.

“Yes. I stitched your back and changed the bandages once, but I would like to wrap them all around you. Can you get up?”

“I think so.” He started getting up and Aria helped him.

“I don’t know why they would give me things to help heal you,” she murmured as carefully removed the cloth bandage.

“They don’t want the wounds to fester with infection. She wants me alive,” he said through gritted teeth, preparing for the worst part.

Aria poured alcohol on a cloth and paused before reaching up to dab at the stiches. “I’m so sorry,” she said as she applied the cleaning agent.

“It’s okay.” He tensed his muscles as she cleaned the marks.

“I tried taking your mask off. I couldn’t find a way.”

“It’s enchanted. It prevents me from using any energy. Only Awen or your sister can take it off, because it requires dark matter from the universe to unlock.”

Aria paused again before wrapping the cloth around his chest, stomach, and back. “That’s awful.” She was trying so hard not to cry. Her mind had taken a beating over the last week and she didn’t know how much more she could handle.

“Zaria will come,” Gareth said, relaxing his muscles as she finished touching him. He was sore and tender, and every movement was excruciating. He gingerly sat down next to the wall without touching it.

“I don’t think we can beat her,” Aria sniffed.

“We can. You just have to think it’s possible.” Gareth squeezed her hand before going back to being motionless.

Aria explained to him the interaction that had occurred between Awen and her mother after he had passed out. “What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know. It’s so weird. Something had to have happened between the two of them. But…is all of this because your mother slighted Awen somehow? That’s a lot of work to go through just to get revenge on one family.”

“I know. I just wish I knew. My mother offered to be her slave,” Aria hiccupped as she started crying.

Gareth smoothed over her hair. “It will all be over soon.”

“I hope so,” she whispered through her tears.

 

Gabriella was chained to the wall, her hands and legs spread eagle. The fire in the room just barely kept her warm enough and she could feel the chill in the air. The castle was not what she remembered it to be. It used to be warm and inviting. Now it was dark and dank, damp and foreboding. She heard heels clicking down the hallway and tried to prepare herself, but nothing did. Awen entered the room, barely wearing anything. She had a white corset with lace trim on, her breasts threatening to spill over. White stockings held up with white garters, and white pumps adorned her feet. Her hair was swept up in a simple ponytail, and a filmy white robe splayed open and floated in the air when she moved, long sleeves encapsulating her arms.

They stared at each other for a long time. Tears ran down Gabriella’s face as she stared at her former love, lamenting everything that Awen had done in the name of revenge. The countless lives lost. The torture. The destruction of their world.

“I’m going to make you moan my name once again,” Awen whispered, showing nothing on her face.

Gabriella didn’t say anything. This is not what she wanted. How often had she thought about how she would change things if she could go back in time? How would she defy her father in the name of love? Finally, she whispered back, “Not like this. Please.”

Awen didn’t reply. She stood just in front of her, reaching out to touch her, but stopping just short of actually doing so. She ran her hand down Gabriella’s side as though she was touching her, her eyes following the movement of her own hand. She let her arm fall to her side.

“I hated you,” Awen stated emptily.

“I know,” Gabriella choked out.

“I still do sometimes. But I will always love you.” Awen admitted her feelings without showing them. The darkness had so thoroughly taken over she couldn’t show the love other than to say it with seemingly empty words.

“I love you too.”

“Why did you do it?” Awen demanded, anger coming back to her face.

“It’s easier for you isn’t it? To be angry and hateful?” Awen hissed her breath out, narrowing her eyes. She slapped Gabriella, and it stung. But she kept talking. “What are you going to do when you have nothing left? When you have your revenge? What then?” Gabriella asked softly. She wanted to try and get through to her. To stop this madness of death and decay.

Awen didn’t say anything for a long time. “I am too far gone,” she said with a hint of sadness. It was gone before Gabriella could tell if it was ever there. She started walking away.

“Wait!” Gabriella shouted, her voice echoing off of the walls in the barren room. Awen stopped but didn’t turn around. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. More sorry than you could ever know. I’ve thought so many times about how I could change things. I thought about leaving my husband, leaving my children when they were born. I wanted to find you. I wanted you. I need you to believe me. But please, don’t hurt my girls. I love them. Please, I’ll do anything for you. I’ll stay with you,” she whispered brokenly.

Awen stood at the doorway for a full minute without speaking, then silently left, the only sound her clacking heels fading into the distance down the hall.

Gabriella was left alone with her thoughts of self-torture, until a halfling guard unshackled her and gave her a robe to put on. She tied it shut and followed him through several passages until they reached a large room overlooking the deadened courtyard. She felt dead inside as she thought about how it used to look when she had been with Awen in happier times.

The room was enchanted so she couldn’t get out and the guard left her there. The floor had gorgeous and luxurious rugs that matched the curtains in gold tones. There was a four poster bed with the same curtains that framed the windows tied back to the dark cherry wood frame. The bedding was black with gold trim and gold pillows decorated the bed. It was the centerpiece in the room with a lot of open space. One of the walls was lined with leather bound books on shelves the same type of wood as the bed. In the corner was a black leather chaise lounge and a leather chair with a footstool. At the opposite end of the room was an ornate vanity, and next to that a walk in closet. The clothes were beautiful and bright, exactly what Gabriella would wear. Tears pricked her eyes at the thoughtfulness of the room, even though she was being held against her will. Awen still cared for her, loved her, no matter how angry she was. There was so much anger and hurt.

After the walk in closet Gabriella found a beautiful bathroom made with black and gold marble, with a giant marble tub. Candles lined the edges of the tub and there was a headrest at one end. The taps were gold. The idea of a bath appealed to her so she started the bath and poured some foaming bath milk in as she sought out the towels. She retrieved a loose dress and settled it on the counter and removed her bathrobe, climbing up the steps and stepping into the steaming water. She soaked her body until she was a prune, trying not to think.

It was nearly impossible to not think. She was so confused. She still had love for Awen, even after all of this. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know how to make her stop. She loved her children. She even had love for the man she was forced to marry. She thought about that night she had forsaken Awen. The heartbreak and despair in her eyes. It was a moment she played over and over again in her mind. She had been kept awake at night more times than she could count. She felt responsible for all of this. If she had stood up to her father, none of this would have happened. Everyone would be safe. But then would she have known her daughters? The impossibility of not knowing, of everything, wracked her with guilt and sorrow.

She felt guilty because her daughter was in a cell somewhere, barely being fed. Her husband was in a similar situation, she knew. She didn’t know anything about Zaria, but knew it was only a matter of time before she tried storming the castle. What would she do when that happened? At the moment she was in the lap of luxury, and she didn’t know if she wanted it to end. Then she mentally slapped herself for such a thought. What was wrong with her? She felt helpless. She sighed and got out of the tub, lightly drying then applying some lotion that smelled like honey and chocolate. The scent made her feel heady. She put on the light pink dress and the soft material swished pleasantly against her skin. She looked at herself in a full length mirror, feeling disgusted with herself. She needed to be strong so she could keep her children alive throughout this.

Gabriella walked to the bookshelf and picked a random volume, curling up in the chair. She read until the sun fell under the earth, and repeated this every day for several weeks. She tried not thinking, but constantly went between wanting to be with Awen, hating herself for it, and wanting to be with her children. She barely thought about her husband at all. She didn’t see Awen once while she was imprisoned in her room. She wondered about her. If her words had had any impact on her. She fell asleep in the soft bed with a warm wind swirling about the room, gently fluttering the curtains.