Love means nothing. Just because you’re emotionally attached to someone, it doesn’t mean they’re a good person or that they can be relied on. Believing they love you back doesn’t make it so.
Love cannot change reality, not even in a world that has dragons.
These and other depressing thoughts filled my mind as the elevator descended.
Nyx was beside me. Laney and Biadet stood in front, occasionally glancing over their shoulders at me seething and fuming. They were holding a conversation in low voices, their rivalry on hold for the time being, but I wasn’t paying attention. I just wanted to get down to ground level and start shouting. Although, the way I was feeling, I might not be able to wait that long.
I was trying to hold judgement for after I’d spoken to Jenny. That was the sensible and reasonable thing to do. But as we slowly slid down the shaft, the sense of betrayal became overwhelming. Of course she had agreed to let the Queen use her in return for giving her what she wanted. That’s what anyone would do.
Beneath the rage, though, was something more sinister. Shame. I had allowed myself to believe she was something she wasn’t, because I wanted it to be true. I couldn’t really blame her for that. It was my fault for being such an idiot.
I should have learned from history. One minute you’re singing ‘I am sixteen, going on seventeen,’ next you’re wearing a brown shirt and ratting out your girlfriend’s family to the Nazis. The lesson was clear: never trust an Austrian.
“Are we to head for Fengarad,” asked Nyx.
“Speak again and I’ll cut off your tail.” That shut him up.
The lift shuddered to a stop and Biadet opened the iron gate. The unconscious soldiers were exactly as we left them. Maybe they were all dead and Biadet had lied to me, just like everyone else. I realise I can be unbearable when I’m moping, but it’s hard not to wallow when your life sucks arse.
“You should take a moment to compose yourself,” said Laney.
“I’m fine,” I said through gritted teeth.
“You’re sulking,” said Biadet. It felt like they were colluding against me. Bringing people together, it’s what I do.
I pushed Nyx ahead of me and continued down the tunnel that led to the outside and whatever wonderfulness awaited me. “So who’s your master, Biadet? It isn’t the man in the spire, assuming he isn’t a woman in disguise. Although it wouldn’t really surprise me if he was. Could it be the other queen, the one in Dargot?”
“Yes,” said Biadet. “It could.” Which I thought was remarkably forthcoming of her, until I realised she hadn’t actually said it was her, just that it could be.
We reached the end of the tunnel. I hadn’t even bothered to produce a glowing ball, I just marched through the dark, using Nyx and my growing sense of injustice to lead the way.
When I emerged into the light, I was momentarily blinded. If there had been someone waiting to ambush us, I’d never have seen them. I didn’t care.
Everyone was back up, although most were sitting. The eunuchs looked in most distress, many had blood running from their ears. Claire was going around healing them while Maurice followed her like a puppy. My view of couples was at an all time low, so my opinions of all things romantic may have been somewhat jaded.
The female soldiers were sitting lined up against a wall, watched by a smaller group of female soldiers who were trolls. They didn’t look very happy but their weapons had been removed and they still looked shaken up by the weapon Lenda had used. Primus Lenda sat with them, glaring.
And then there was Jenny. She was on her feet. She saw me emerge and her concerned frown turned into a big smile. She started walking towards me and faltered, her smile dropping from her face.
I looked away from her, unable to bear it, and watched Maurice and Claire again. They hadn’t seen us come back out and were busy helping others. They looked so comfortable and easy together.
And it lifted. The anger, the shame, the sense of loss that had consumed me just went away. I knew the Queen had lied to me. It was so obvious it wasn’t even funny.
Jenny had come to Requbar to find me for a very important reason. She needed to heal Maurice. He was in a coma and could have died any minute. Maybe she would put her own desires ahead of mine—people make dumb choices all the time— but the idea she would have abandoned Claire and Maurice to go off and play war games was ridiculous. Having a child would not have been worth that.
Jenny started moving towards me again, a hesitant smile reclaiming its place.
The Queen had thrown me completely off balance. She’d used my own tactic against me, tilting me to cloud my judgement. I had been an idiot not see it. If there was anything to be ashamed of, it was that.
I would have had a go at Jenny and ignored her denials. She probably wouldn’t have been able to remember why she had agreed to work with the Queen. I might even have convinced her the Queen was right. Sew the seeds of dissent and step back to watch them grow. You had to admire the Queen’s top quality mindfuckery.
But she didn’t know about Maurice. Couldn’t have guessed there was an easier way to prove Jenny hadn’t gone rogue than something as ephemeral as true love. Common decency.
Maybe Jenny would one day do something to piss me off. Maybe she would stop wanting to be with me. These things happen. But there was no way she would throw away her humanity. Not willingly.
“For a moment, I thought I’d lost you,” said Jenny as she reached me.
For a moment, she had, and through no fault of her own. I smiled and hugged her so she couldn’t see my embarrassment. Not that she would need to see my face to know it. I let go of her and looked back at the palace, a beautiful prism of flowers through which I could only see the evil that had nearly claimed me.
Biadet and Laney were both standing there with mildly miffed looks on their faces.
“What happened just then?” said Laney.
“Metamorphosis,” said Biadet.
“He’s good, isn’t he?” said Laney. “Special.”
Jenny stepped in front of me. “Princess, don’t make me spank you.”
Laney stood her ground, but she did twitch a bit.
“So, it’s like that?” Biadet said to me. I let her have that one, because to be honest, she wasn’t wrong.
Jenny switched her attention back to me. “I felt that.”
“We should leave,” I said quickly. I formed a ball of light and held it over my head to fire into the air. I planned to send it up as a signal for Flossie to come and get us, but just as I released it, Jenny’s hand slipped into mine and it shot into the air with far greater force than I intended, and then it exploded like a high altitude nuclear detonation.
It was searingly bright but fortunately didn’t give off any heat. Everyone covered their eyes and then looked at me like, “What the fuck?”
I passed it off like it was intentional.
Jenny lifted my hand in hers. “Sorry, did I set you off?” There was no fooling her.
Gabor and Roland came strolling around the corner.
“Where did you two go?” I asked them in an effort to avoid everyone’s questioning looks.
“We went for lunch,” said Gabor. “There didn’t seem too much going on here.”
“Nothing is better,” said Roland, “than a good meal and a long shit.” He seemed extremely pleased with this advice, glancing around to make sure no one had missed out on hearing it.
“You have spire key,” said Gabor, more statement than question.
I took out the gem the Queen had given me and held it out to him. He shook his head and didn’t take it. Jenny reached for it and it began to glow. I yanked it back.
The Queen had given it to me very easily. I had been too worked up to think anything of it at the time, but why would she hand me something that would give me access to the spires and the weapon inside it? My plan was always to destroy it, if I could, but most people would probably want it for themselves.
I inspected the gem more closely. A bomb of some kind, I would guess. Take out Peter and us at the same time. Jenny had something to do with it, but I wasn’t sure what.
I walked over to where the trolls were. “We are leaving?” asked Raviva.
“Yes, as soon as Flossie gets here. You,” I said to Primus Lenda. “I’m leaving the eunuchs here. Take good care of them.”
Lenda looked at me with contempt which suddenly turned to fear. I wasn’t dumb enough to think it was me that caused the change. I could hear the dragons landing behind me.
“What the fook happened?” called out Flossie. “Ah thought it was world war fookin’ three, or summit.”
“He got overexcited,” said Jenny. She still had a firm grip on my hand. I didn’t mind it.
“What’s going on?” asked Claire as she and Maurice came closer.
“I’ll tell you later. Here, hold onto him.” I shoved Nyx towards her. He might come in very useful indeed, once Claire had picked his brain. I doubted the Queen had entrusted him with too much information—she was willing to send him on a kamikaze mission with us, so she clearly didn’t overly value him—but there was probably still a lot he could tell us, willingly or not.
The four dragons now in the square gave Lenda food for thought. She wasn’t quite the cocky alpha female she had been. That was good. I expected to see her again and a little fear could make all the difference.
We boarded the dragons and took off, leaving the eunuchs behind. I had no interest in fighting my way to victory, especially when they could just as easily turn on us. Everything the Queen touched could. Even Jenny could still go all Manchurian candidate if I wasn’t careful.
“Fengarad?” asked Flossie as we rose into the air.
“Take us back to the ogres, first.”
Flossie nodded and headed towards the ridge overlooking the city. I had no intention of going to Fengarad right now. My enemy was here. The city of Requbar had declared war on me and I wasn’t in the mood to let it slide.