She had to kill me.
I’d known it a possibility when they’d collected me from the outskirts of the forest, yet I never truly considered that she would.
And I had no idea how or if I could stop her.
“Leave us,” she said to the guards.
They looked from her to me as though they’d protest, but they knew better and filed out.
Truin didn’t so much as glance at me while she mixed something that smelled like vomit and poison in the dented cauldron.
Audra wouldn’t look at me as she slowly paced behind Truin. “You have two choices, my prince.”
She raised a brow. “As I was saying, you have two choices. To drain. Or be exiled.”
I swallowed, wondering if I should fight her on this. If I should heat my hands enough to melt the bars and grab her by the nape to force her to listen to me.
As though she could hear my thoughts, her eyes collided with mine. And I knew, staring at the endless ice-veiled depths, that it would be futile.
Going against her would prove her right when I so desperately needed to prove her wrong.
“Did you or did you not plan to take my kingdom for your own, to assassinate me and my father, via the arrangement of marriage?”
She and Truin waited. “I did,” I admitted, “but—”
Audra raised her hand, looking at the ground. “Choose and choose quickly, you have five heartbeats.”
I couldn’t. I had to. Two impossible choices… or perhaps not.
If I were to be sent to The Edges, then I could find a way back. I could find a way out of there or get a letter to her, explaining everything.
I could do none of that if I were dead, and the betrayal, what my family had done and tried to do, it was all too fresh for her to hear anything over the sound of her turbulent feelings.
But no one left The Edges. The only way out was by royal decree—which rarely happened—or death. It was akin to living imprisoned, but with some freedom, if you could ignore a lot of the scum that called it home.
I was now a king. She could strip me of my title but that didn’t change what or who I was.
I’d find a way back. Only when the time was right.
“The Edges,” I said.
Audra nodded. “Very well. Guards.”
They filed back in and unlocked the gate to my cell. “Hold him down.”
I frowned at them, then Audra. “What? Why?”
“Quiet before I decide to rid you of your tongue.” She walked closer, and with a slight tremble in her hand, she tipped up my chin. Her mouth lowered to mine, and a sigh filled with relief so potent, I thought half my soul left my body to enter hers, coated her lips.
“I loved you,” she whispered, her lips ghosting over mine.
I tried to reach for her, but my bound hands and the three guards on either side of me, pushing my arms and shoulders down, prevented that. “Silk—”
“Shhh,” she crooned, and before I could fully open my eyes, that pungent aroma was gliding down my throat.
I choked and sputtered, trying to spit it free.
Her magic snapped my mouth shut and forced enough air inside my nostrils to push it down my throat. My eyes went wide, pleading, riddled with questions. What have you done?
She simply stood there, her expression now raw and open, exposing what I’d done to her for all of half a minute. Then everything went dark.
And I woke up in a different life.
Silence hollowed deep within the large, doom-stained expanse.
Not even the dripping of leaking pipes or stalactites could be heard above the thunder drowning my ears.
“So you see,” Raiden said. “You see now that I never wanted any harm to befall you. Ever.”
I unstuck my tongue from the roof of my mouth, unable to look at him as I croaked, “But you did. You did want me dead.” I wasn’t sure how I could move past that. He hadn’t known me at the time, but how far into our relationship had we delved before he had that change of heart?
I was afraid of learning the answer. Afraid of it being too late to matter, or early enough to change everything.
“Silk,” he said, voice rough and wet. “You need only look at me, and I mean really look at me, and you’ll know. You’ll know I love you. That I could never do that to you.”
I stared at his boots. You’re no better than the scum beneath our nails, the shit stuck beneath the soles of our boots…
“Love means nothing in the face of what is right and what is wrong.” I hopped down and rounded the table. “And that which is gray can only be ignored for so long.”
“You cannot kill me. You couldn’t then, and you can’t now.” He didn’t sound so sure of himself, though. “If you still love me, then we both know it’s an impossible task.”