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the garden

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You sleep.

You sleep for ages. A part of you is dimly aware of the passage of time but the rest of you only feels cold. You want to curl up, to try to conserve your warmth, but you can't move.

You are trapped. And so, you sleep.

(In your dreams, you wait in the garden and thorns pierce your skin, your blood oozing out and staining the white of the moon in the sky.

In your nightmares, he embraces you with love etched into his grin.)

Time ticks onward.

Until it doesn't.

Your gradual awakening feels like pressure being lifted from your chest, a weight removed so you can suddenly, all at once, breathe again.

You wake.

Your eyes open.

It's dark where you are. It's cavernous and frigid. Your harsh, rattling gasping echoes through the space. You clench and unclench your hands, long and sharp fingernails piercing your palms, blood sluggishly dripping to the floor.

For a long moment, you don't know what has happened, why you're here, why it's so cold.

Until you do.

The memories make you both hot and cold and you fold in half on your throne, retching.

In the distance, you hear your army moving, waking from the deep slumber all of you had been forced to endure.

Your hair curls limply around your shaking shoulders. Your eyes are blurred with sleep and tears and your chin is slick with vomit. The hem of your dress spills over the dais,  covered in filth and ragged with age. Chill bites at your bare skin, lingers longingly around the heavy velvet of your clothes.

In the back of your mind, you hear your master murmuring, too weak to control much of anything.

(But it controls you. You are its linchpin, its mouthpiece, and it will never let you go.)

(You were eighteen, once. You were young and beautiful and you were a princess in your own right. You were engaged to a prince, to the prince, and you were in love. You were vibrant and passionate and so, so happy.

You thought he was, too.)

You rise to your feet on unstable, atrophied legs. Dust and snow shake loose from your curls, sliding wetly from your crown to the ground. Your arms feel like stone and you're surprised to see that your skin looks healthy and fresh. Your ample breasts heave as you struggle to suck in enough air, enough anything, to feel life rush back into your body.

You feel nothing more like a walking (stumbling) corpse.

(One day, you found your prince in the garden he so loved.

He wasn't alone.)

You reach out with your hand and then again with your borrowed magic and you empty your strength into creating light and warmth. You don't accomplish much - enough light to read by but not enough to see the ceiling, enough heat to melt the ice from your gown but not enough to reach your bones. You find the staff your master gave you lying a few feet away and it takes you minutes to move close enough to grab it.

In the dim light, you see silvery scars winding up your arms.

(In your pain, you made a mistake. You called on the power of the sun to take away the hurt or to make him hurt or maybe both, except it wasn't the sun who answered you, but a dark power trapped there masquerading as your savior.

You stared into its pitless eyes and sold your soul.)

Your master that calls itself a queen whispers orders down your spine, through your nervous system. Find me power, it tells you, so that I may regain my strength. Give me strength so that you may take your rightful place.

Its words are dark and insidious, gripping you tight where its staked its claim, that place where you once felt love. The queen saved her daughter, it says, you must find her crystal and heal me. The crystal has power enough to save us both.

I will make you a queen, it hisses. You will be my queen.

Of course, you answer. Anything for you, my master.

I am weak, it says. I cannot stay awake much longer. Find the crystal, for us.

Of course, you repeat.

Its rigid hold on you slackens ever so slightly as the chains of a long dead monarch tighten.

It hasn't told you what must be done, but you know. The seven warriors must be found, reborn as they are, ignorant as they are. You must find them and take the shards of power hiding their true nature and those shards will be your salvation.

You pause.

The crystal is powerful, more powerful than your master. Your master who sleeps and cannot speak with anyone else.

Slowly, a smile spreads across your face.

(He was beautiful, in his last moments. He will always be beautiful to you, but never so much as the look on his face right before the light went out in his eyes.

You pretend that expression of love was only for you.)

The crystal will indeed be your salvation. But first, you need power, power enough to weaken your master's hold on you.

A plan solidifies in your mind. Your army knows nothing of the fate of its strongest soldiers, will follow any order you give without question. You will take that obedience, that dedication your master gifted you with, and you will use it to free yourself. You will play the game and keep up the pretense until you are strong enough to win.

(In your dreams, you wait in the garden and the sun warms your skin, shining so bright that it sears your eyes.)

You grasp the icy black power that binds your heart and make yourself presentable for your court.