Thorn Queen (Page 26)

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It was no secret: my mother hated Otherworldly things. Her feelings weren't that hard to understand, considering that she'd been a prisoner there, serving as Storm King's forced mistress-not unlike my own experiences now. Just as she tried to ignore what Roland and I did for a living, she also tried to ignore the gentry blood in me, treating me as though I were fully human and often refusing to hear otherwise.

Therefore, I was a bit surprised that she took everything better than Roland did when we got back to Tucson. I knew they had discussions when I wasn't around. He filled her in on what had happened in Yellow River, how I'd been practicing magic on the sly, and how I was now the reigning monarch of a fairy kingdom. He told her about Leith too. If she was shocked by any of it, if she was repulsed by it and hated me for what I'd become…well, she never let on. She was just…well, my mother.

She set me up in my old bedroom. It hadn't changed much over the years and even still had the same glow-in-the-dark stars I'd stuck to the ceiling. When I'd put them there in my youth, she had fretted that they'd never come off without ripping out part of the paint. So, I guess she'd never bothered in all these years.

Roland knew someone who knew someone who came and did a field surgery on my shoulder, removing the bullet and leaving me with pain meds and antibiotics. That was about all I saw of Roland in those initial days of recovery. It was my mom who stayed with me the most, talking about anything that wasn't Otherworldly and making sure I had entertainment in the form of books and TV. I could pay little attention to those diversions, though, not when my mind was on so many other things. I would turn the events of the previous weeks over and over in my head until I grew too weary to string any coherent thoughts together. When I reached that exhausted point, I would usually just let my mind go blank for a while. It was oddly soothing, particularly since I so often woke up from nightmares about Leith. An empty mind was sometimes welcome.

And it was my mother I went to when my period came. She'd already bought a pregnancy test too, just for peace of mind. When it came out negative, I stared sobbing. My mom held me in bed and rocked me the whole time, saying, “I know, baby, I know.” It was odd because I didn't even know why I was crying. The negative test was a good thing, and I was glad there were no loose ends with Leith. As she held me-the first time I'd really let anyone touch me since Art's house-I suddenly wondered how she had felt when she was pregnant with me. Had she been repulsed by the thought of the half-gentry child forced on her? Had she wanted to get rid of me but been unable to in the Otherworld? I shuddered, not wanting to ponder that too much. Thinking I was cold, she went and got me a sweater.

It was a few days later that Roland and I finally talked. I was more mobile then and had come downstairs to make a bowl of cereal in the kitchen. He strolled in and joined me, sitting at the table with his coffee. His face seemed to have more lines than the last time I'd seen him. My fault, no doubt.

“I'm sorry,” I said when the silence grew too hard to bear. “I…I should have told you.”

He looked up from his cup. “Which part exactly?”

“All of it. Everything. I…” I sighed. “You were always so mad that I was spending time in the Otherworld at all. I thought you'd be upset if you knew the rest.”

“Oh, believe me, I'm much more upset to hear it now than I would have been then.”

“I'm sorry,” I said again, not knowing what else to say. “It all just happened so fast. There was that fight with Aeson-“

“I know, I know. Kiyo gave me the details of that, though he too was a bit surprised to find out you can conjure up hurricanes worthy of Storm King now.”

I shook my head. “I'm a long way from that. And once I started learning the magic…I just can't stop.”

Now Roland sighed. “He's been by a couple of times.”

It took me a moment to realize he meant Kiyo, not Storm King. “I'm not ready to see him.”

“I know.” There was a pause, and I think it took a lot for Roland to say his next words. “He's not so bad. Relatively speaking.”

I gave him a sad half-smile. “Yeah, he's great.” And I meant it…but something was bothering me about Kiyo, something that kept nudging me in the back of my head. I continued to ignore it.

“So what happens now?” Roland asked. “What are you going to do?”

I stared in surprise. “Well…what else would I do? The same thing I've been doing.”

“What, running back and forth between the worlds, trying to act like you have some semblance of a normal life?”

The tone of his voice hurt me. “What do you expect me to do? And it's not like our lives have ever been normal.”

He shook his head. “This is different. You can't do this. You can't literally live in two worlds.”

I munched on my cereal for a moment to give me a chance to think. “I don't really see that I have a choice. That land is bound to me. If I neglect it, it dies.”

Roland said nothing.

“Oh, come on! You think I should do that? Abandon it and let all those people suffer? You're as bad as Art.” The mystery of what had happened to Art's body and to Abigail was…well, a mystery. No one had told me exactly, save that it had “been taken care of.”

Roland's eyes flashed with anger. “No, I'm nothing like him. Don't ever make that mistake. But the gentry aren't our people. They aren't your people.”

“They are now,” I said, surprising myself.

He stood up, his entire posture weary and defeated. “I don't know what to think anymore. I don't know what to think of you. I don't even feel like I know you.”

In all these years together, he'd never raised a hand to me. But in that moment, it was like he'd slapped me. “What does that mean?” I asked. I meant to sound defiant. Instead, my words came out very small and very scared, much like a pleading child's. I remembered how grateful I'd been to see him at Art's. My father. My protector. “Do you not…do you not love me anymore?”

He'd started to walk away but paused to look back. His blue eyes took me in for several moments. “Of course. I will always love you. You're my daughter. But…I'm not sure if things can ever be the same.”

Roland walked out of the kitchen, and that's when I realized it was time for me to leave.

Tim nearly knocked me over when I got back to my own house. My mom had called him to tell him I was okay when I'd first come to her place, but between my recovery week and the week at Art's with no contact, Tim had done a fair amount of freaking out.

“What happened? Are you okay? I dealt with Lara while you were gone. You would have been proud.” I smiled, more pleased that he'd called her by her first name instead of “bitch secretary.” “Do you want me to make you something?”

“You sound like my mom,” I teased. “Always wanting to feed me.”

He shrugged. “You're too skinny. And I don't say that lightly, considering the kinds of girls I go after.”

He was right both about me and his choice in women. They'd fed me at Art's, but I'd hardly eaten any of it. I'd lost a lot of weight, and while part of me wanted to bulk back up by tapping the bag of Milky Way candy bars in my pantry, I knew I should probably be delving into some serious nutrition for a change. So, I dispatched Tim to cook up some steak stir-fry, a request he was more than eager to accomodate.

I spent the rest of the day restless and bored, unsure of what to do with myself. I did some laundry, despite Tim's protests that he could do it, and scarfed down lots of his stir-fry. The animals were all there, which led me to believe Kiyo was still staying there too. After I'd refused to see him at my parents', I half-expected him to have moved out.

Honestly, I wasn't sure what to do now. I didn't plan on going to the Otherworld anytime soon, and there was no way-as I told Lara later on the phone-that I could take any new jobs for a while. This made both Tim and her nervous about my accounting, but I knew my savings account was at least temporarily secure.

My magic I left completely alone. I wasn't going near that, even though there were times the air and the water vapor around me would call to me like a siren's song, and I'd burn to touch them. The one bit of magic I did use was shamanic: I tried to summon Volusian. He didn't come. I wasn't sure what to think of that.

I was almost grateful for nightfall so that I could go to bed and stop trying to figure out things to pass the time. I wondered if this apathy was just a natural consequence of the trauma I'd been through, some kind of numbed state. TV, my puzzles, even Tim's cheery chatter…none of it could hold my attention. I wasn't bored, exactly. I just wasn't very engaged with the world.

That night, just as I used to do, I dreamed of the Thorn Land. The dream was so vivid and real. It was like I'd stepped outside my own home to go walking in the foothills, like my soul was traveling on without my body. The air was sharp and clean, filled with the fragrance of desert flowers. The sun was warm and merciless-yet comforting in its familiarity. And the colors…the colors made my dream self want to weep. Peaches and greens and all the colors of the cacti flowers looking up at the clear blue, blue of the sky. For the first time since my capture and rape, I felt at peace. I felt whole and healed in the dream.

I woke up with a longing in my chest, like there was a piece of me missing. The sharpness of it startled me-and scared me a little. Tossing on a robe, I made my way out to the kitchen, hoping coffee and breakfast would shake off that all-consuming desire to run to the Otherworld.

“Kiyo,” I exclaimed. He sat at the table with coffee, both dogs at his feet. I had a weird deja vu from coffee with Roland yesterday and suspected there was “a talk” in store for me.

“Eugenie,” he said, looking up from the paper. His eyes were warm and chocolate-brown, filled with so much love. He rose from his chair and approached me, arms open. I started to go into his embrace but something made me shrink back, some protective instinct of my body's to keep itself safe. I knew he wasn't Leith. I knew Kiyo loved me…but there was just something within me that was afraid to touch anyone else. My mother was the only one I'd allowed to hug me so far.

Sadness and hurt flashed through Kiyo's eyes at my rejection, but he seemed to understand. Awkwardly, he simply gave me a soft touch on the arm, which I allowed with only a slight flinch. We both sat down-after I'd fetched coffee-and he drank me in with those intense eyes, like he hadn't seen me in years. Of course, these last two weeks or so had certainly felt like years to me, so perhaps that wasn't such a bad comparison.

“How are you?” he asked. “I've missed you so much. I've been so worried.”

“I'm okay. I was in good hands.”

“How's your shoulder?”

I gave it a slight shrug. “Stiff. But mending. I could probably go over to the Otherworld and get someone to patch it right up.”

His face instantly darkened. “I think you need to stay away from there for a while.”

“Jesus Christ. Not you too. I'm that land's ruler. I have to go back.” A flash of the dream came back to me. It was more than some subconscious musing, I knew. The Thorn Land and I were tied. We couldn't stay apart. I had known that being away from it would cause it to die, and now I was realizing that I might die without it as well.

“There has to be a way. I was talking to Maiwenn, and she's going to look into it. Surely, somewhere in the pages of their history, someone gave up their kingdom without dying.”

“Is that a good idea?” I asked. “Me giving it up?”

“Of course,” he said, shocked. “You've never wanted it. You've said so a hundred times. It'd be better for everyone. The next person bound to the land probably wouldn't transform it into a desert. You'd be free, able to go on with your life here, free of the magic….”

I narrowed my eyes. “I'll never be free of that either.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, stiffness in his voice, “but there'll be less temptation outside of the Otherworld. Why the hell didn't you tell me you were learning all that stuff?”

“I did tell you! I told you about Dorian sending Ysabel.”

“What I saw you do in there…that was nothing like what you said she taught you.”

“It happened fast…I didn't realize it half the time myself, and I didn't want to upset you.”

“No one learns that fast,” he muttered. I remembered Shaya's words. Storm King did.

“Well, I'm apparently not all-powerful. I lost hold of Volusian during that ordeal. He didn't come when I called.”

“Oh. I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?”

“He's bound to Dorian now.”

I stared for several seconds. “Oh my God. I thought that might happen…”

Kiyo stared back. “You did? Then why the hell did you send him to Dorian? Why not send him to warn me?”

“For exactly that reason! If Volusian broke from my control, I knew Dorian could probably bind him.”

“I suppose. But I feel like you've just given Dorian a nuclear warhead.”

I didn't say it, but I had a feeling Kiyo was more upset that it was Dorian I'd contacted for help and not him.

“And that's how you found me, right? Volusian told Dorian, who then told you and Roland?” I'd heard it from Roland but wanted to hear it again.

Kiyo nodded. “We'd been looking for you as soon as you disappeared after the battle. None of us had a clue what had happened. We got Roland involved a few days later to help with a hunt in this world, but none of us…” He shook his head. “None of us had any idea that that's what had happened to you.”

Awkward silence fell, each of us thinking about the things neither of us would give voice to. My imprisonment. My rape. I lowered my eyes, playing with the edge of the coffee cup. The memories were like a rollercoaster. Sometimes they'd sink way down low into the bottom of my mind. Other times, they'd flare up sharply, pushing to the forefront of my mind and unleashing all the dizzying, horrible feelings of fear, violation, and helplessness that ordeal had caused.

I suddenly looked up sharply and met Kiyo square in the eyes. “Why didn't you let me kill Leith when I had the chance?” With a shiver, I remembered the vengeance burning within me and the storm swirling around me.

The question clearly caught Kiyo off-guard. “What? You know why. Because of the political fallout…because you're not the kind of person given to revenge….”

“Aren't I?” I demanded. I was suddenly angry at him, and it occurred to me right then that I'd been suppressing a lot of it this whole week. “You have no right to talk about when revenge is right. You didn't go through what I did.”

“I know,” he said, trying to be gentle. “I don't doubt he deserved a horrible punishment. I can only imagine how it was for you-“

“No. There is no way you can imagine.”

“It's more than just revenge, though. Do you know what's happened in the wake of this? Katrice is massing her armies, Eugenie. The monarchs haven't had an all-out war in ages. This could get very bad. People are going to die. I wanted to save you from that…wanted to save you from being her target.”

“Alright. Then why didn't you kill him?”

Dead silence.

“What?” Kiyo exclaimed at last.

I never lowered my gaze, astonished at the coldness in my voice. “You said he deserved a horrible punishment.”

“Yeah, imprisonment or-“

“Imprisonment? Are you crazy? He's a prince. We couldn't have kept him without the same 'political fallout.' He would have walked.”

“Going to war is worse, believe it or not.”

“Then you still should have killed him,” I repeated. “Everyone keeps going on about how you're 'just' a kitsune. You aren't technically aligned with anyone. Maybe she would have put a hit out on you, but she wouldn't have gone to war against you alone.”

Kiyo's eyes were wide. “Are you listening to yourself? This is insane! You're condemning me for not killing a man that was on his knees.”

“That man did horrible, awful things. He didn't deserve to walk away unpunished.”

Kiyo's shock had given away to anger. “I can't believe you're holding me responsible for this. And you know what? This is the magic talking. The more of it you use, the more it changes you. This is why you need to stay away from the Otherworld! For your own protection. Before you turn into someone you don't want to be.”

“Oh, now you want to protect me! Look, you of all people should understand. I can't stay away from the Otherworld. I can't stay away from this world. I don't belong anywhere! And yet…I belong everywhere. There's no good fit for me. I'm split, Kiyo. I thought you'd get that. You told me before that you did. You're the same.”

“It…it's different somehow.”

“That's not good enough. You're being a hypocrite,” I exclaimed. “You make decisions for both of us based on what's convenient at any given time. You think you can handle it one way but that I can't. That's not fair. You can't make different rules for each of us.”

“I'm trying to protect you,” he repeated.

“You don't think I'm strong enough to handle the things you can?”

He held up his hands. “I don't know. Maybe I'm the one who isn't strong enough to make the tough decisions.”

“Dorian is.” It was out before I could stop it.

Dead silence, round two, descended on us.

Kiyo finished his coffee. “I see. So that's what this is really about.” He stared around, taking in the house and the cats sprawled everywhere. “Maybe…maybe it's time I pack up my things.”

I crossed my arms. “I think that's a good idea.”

“It might take me a day or two to collect these guys, though.”

“That's fine.” I kept perfect control in my voice, focusing all my energy on sounding flat. If I slipped up, I might start crying or begging him to stay. I might apologize for being so harsh and holding him responsible for not letting me kill Leith. It wasn't fair for me to blame Kiyo and laud Dorian…

…and yet I did.

Kiyo stood up, saying he'd come back to do a thorough packing when I wasn't around since that might be easier on both of us. I agreed. Tension engulfed us as he moved toward the door. I'd hurt him; I knew it. And truthfully, I didn't fully know if I was making the worst mistake of my life here in breaking up with Kiyo. True, we had been fighting a lot, with him not understanding the choices I'd been having to make. The heart of it was, though, that I felt he'd had the opportunity to protect me…and hadn't.

“Eugenie,” he said, hovering near the back door. “I know you were hurt. I know you suffered-and still do. And I guess I can see why you think what Dorian did was noble. But it's not. There are big consequences to this, and someday-probably soon-you're going to regret what he did.”

I shook my head, still obstinate. “I don't know. Maybe.”

“No matter what you think of me, it's not too late. You can make amends with Katrice. You can stop this.” There was a desperate, pleading look in his eyes, and I wondered if it was because of his desire for peace or the agony of leaving me. My own hurt over him leaving was steadily growing, but something in his words halted it.

“Make amends? What's that mean?”

“I don't know…apologize…blame it on Dorian. Maiwenn might negotiate….”

My anger spun back up. “I am not going to grovel to the woman whose son raped me. And I'm not going to let Dorian get punished for something I should have done myself.” Maiwenn didn't even deserve mentioning. “I'll face the consequences, Kiyo. I'm the Thorn Queen.”

He gave me a small, sad smile. “Are you sure? Or are you the Storm Queen?”

I frowned. “What?”

“That's what you told Leith. Back in the kitchen.”

“No.” So much of those memories were fragmented, but I was certain I'd recall that. “I told him I was the Thorn Queen a few times-but good God. Not Storm Queen.”

“I heard you. Once you said Storm Queen.”

I shook my head, anger returning. “You made a mistake. They sound alike. Easy to mishear.”

His smile twitched; his sadness grew. “Not with my hearing.”

Kiyo left after that-to where, I didn't know. It didn't matter. My heart was broken, and thinking about him too much was only going to make things worse. Instead, I knew I had to leave too. I had to get out of here-and I knew exactly where I had to go.

I had to go to my kingdom.