All thoughts of what’s right and wrong leave my mind when we reach the end of the tunnel. As I take in the square space only one thought remains inside my mind.
It’s worse than I’d expected. Water Faeries are everywhere along with what look like ordinary humans, but I’m guessing not all of them are. Each one of the humans is strapped to a wooden plank perched on a steel stand. They’re being tortured in different ways, some with knives inserted into their arms, others getting their bodies stretched with ropes attached to a large wooden wheel. Some have Water Fey hovering over them and it looks like they’re trying to kiss them, but I think they might be doing something worse.
“Don’t look at them,” Alex whispers in my ear and I jump, startled. “Focus on turning it off.”
I try my best, but it’s hard to block out the sounds…the cries…the anguish and suffering. It’s pretty much impossible and I end up being overwhelmed by it.
The Queen leads us to a back room that has dirt walls and a stone floor. The ceiling arches up toward what looks like a skylight, but the glass is frosted so I can’t see what’s on the other side. A single wooden chair that has straps attached to the arms and legs is perched in the center of the room.
The Queen shuts the door and then turns to face us. “Tell me, Gemma. What are you most afraid of in this world?”
Love. I blink at my mind’s declaration. “I don’t know,” I say, shifting my weight uneasily.
“You don’t know?” She taps her lips and a toothless grin spreads across her face. “Well, I think it’s time we found out. Don’t you agree?" She raises her arms in the air and claps her hands together. “Think about it. Finally discovering the one thing that will make you lose your sanity. Isn’t it exciting?”
Two Water Faeries zoom up behind me and wrap their boney fingers around my arms. Alex grabs my hand and holds onto me as tightly as he can, attempting to pull me away from them.
“Let me go first,” he says, tugging on my arm. He reaches up and tries to punch one of the Water Fey.
It swerves out of his reach, opens its mouth, and screams so loudly the room rattles and dirt crumbles from the walls.
The Queen shakes her head as she ambles around the chair, tracing her finger along the back. “I have a feeling that forcing you to watch her get tortured is going to provide a very great amount of fear in you.”
Two more Water Faeries come flying up behind us and wrap their fingers around Alex’s arms. He tries to shove them off, but Water Fey are impressively strong for such boney creatures.
The Water Faeries drag me over to the chair, separating Alex and I from each other. I sink into their hold, and challenged their strength against my dead weight as I plant the heels of my shoes into the ground. But it’s a worthless effort.
Once we reach the chair, they shove me down into it and the Queen stands behind me as she snakes an arm around my neck. The Fey secure my legs and wrists to the chair with the straps before the Queen leans over my shoulder, putting her lips near my ear.
“Fear is the most powerful emotion,” she whispers, her foul breath startling icy against my cheek. “And the most painful.”
That’s where she’s wrong. Fear is just fear in my eyes and I’ve experienced it many times. There are so many more emotions that can be so much more painful; sadness, anger, caring for someone that in return can split your heart open and stomp on it.
“Now, which way to go here?” the Queen dithers as she struts around the chair and stands in front of me. “Oh, I know.” She sticks out her hand and one of the Water Fey swoops down from the ceiling and drops a sapphire in her hand. “Since you guys were so kind to bring it back to me, I’ll let you be the first person I use it on again.” She slams her hands down on the armrests and hunches her back as she leans down into my face. “What do you say, Gemma. Shall we torture your soul?”
Laughter slips though my lips. “Torture my soul,” I say, inching closer so our foreheads almost touch. “Been there. Done that.”
She snarls and forcefully shakes the chair, letting me feel her wrath. “Are you mocking me? Me? The Queen of the Underworld?”
No. I’m just trying to stay calm, but the irony of what she’s going to do is kind of amusing.
“Have you lost your sanity already?” she snaps, the tight grip of her fingers rupturing the wooden armrest of the chair. “Are you worthless?”
“Maybe,” I say dryly.
She gapes at me, but then all shock and rage erase from her expression as she holds the sapphire up in front of my face. “How about I take that smirk off your face?”
I try to turn off anything that I’m feeling as the sapphire begins to shimmer and vibrantly glow, but then an image of Alex lying in a pool of his own blood beside the lake presses into my head and fear starts to surface. I shove it down, yet then I see my mom rotting away in this awful place. The Queen’s laughter echoes inside my head as I see myself in a room alone, secluded, and detached. Then it shifts to a different room, one where I’m with Alex and he tells me he loves me and I can’t say it back.
Fear floods through me as I see myself killing Nicholas, slitting his throat, and liking it. I see the mark on my arm. I see myself standing by Stephan and the Death Walkers. It’s too much and I let out a scream wanting to rip my heart out of my chest so I don’t have to feel the pain anymore.
The Queen laughs as I scream again when I picture myself burning into ash. The speed of the images only quickens the more time goes by, flipping at such a swift rate they start to muddle together.
Then suddenly it stops; the noise in my head and the ache in my heart. When I open my eyes, the Queen and the sapphire have dropped to the floor.
Seconds later, the Water Fey also drop to the floor in piles that encompass the Queen’s slackened body. Time freezes for a moment as Alex and I take in what happened.
We both stare at the heaps of boney bodies and then Alex rushes toward me.
“What the hell happened?” I ask as he crouches down and unlatches the straps around my ankles.
“I have no idea,” he says.
I glance down at my locket. “Did this do it?”
He eyes the violet-stoned pedant. “I’m not sure… It could be… or it might have something to do with you… with your soul.” He slips the last buckle loose from my wrist and then pulls me to my feet.
“Because it’s broken,” I state, massaging my aching chest with my hand. “Maybe it broke her, too.”
He looks at me with remorse. “Let’s get out of here before they wake up.”
I nod and we run past the bodies of the Fey and out the door. The Water Fey in the torture chamber are out cold, too, slumped all over the floor and the tables; even on the humans who are awake and instantly beg us to free them.
“Come on, little girl,” one guy with blonde, shaggy hair and sullen eyes purrs from his restraints. “Just undo the straps, okay? I promise I don’t bite.”
“Gemma.” The sound of Alex’s voice brings me back to reality as he tugs on my arm. “Let’s go. Remember they’re here for a reason.”
We hurry away from the guy and I sprint to keep up with Alex as he dashes into the tunnel. The vines above our heads are charred and aren’t re-growing, bits and pieces are all over the ground, floating in the mud puddles.
“We have to try and find water,” Alex says as we race past the cell doors. “They have to get into the lake somehow and, if we can find out how, then maybe we can swim up through it.”
“I can’t swim, though,” I say, my shoes splashing in the puddles.
“I’ll help you,” he replies, curving us to the right. We round a sharp corner and more doors appear.
“Wait,” I skid to a stop, tugging on his arm, forcing him to stop. “We have to find my mom first.”
He shakes his head, looking at me sympathetically, but there’s stubbornness in him as well. “We have to go,” he says. “We don’t know how long they’ll be out.”
“I’m not going without her.” I refuse to budge, digging my shoes into the dirt and holding my ground. Alex shakes his head and I quickly add, “Alex, it’s my mom.”
He wavers, his expression softening, and then he grudgingly nods. “All right, but as soon as I hear any sign that they’re waking up, we’re leaving without her. Got it?”
“Thank you.” I stand on my tiptoes to place a kiss on his cheek.
We hastily start to unlatch doors and check inside the cells. Most of them are empty. A few have humans in them, most are sickly looking, scrawny and underweight. A few of them scream at us the instant we open the door while others look comatose.
I’m growing frustrated with each dead-end, wondering where else the Queen would keep my mom. However, then I open the last door on the right side and my frustration turns to anxiousness. My heart drops to my stomach as the door swings open all the way.
Inside the tiny cell is a woman, her back hunched over as she sits on the edge of the bed. She’s wearing ratty, torn pants and a shirt. Her brown hair is braided behind her head and her blue irises are fixed on the cement floor in front of her bare feet.
“Mom,” I whisper from the doorway. The word feels strange coming out of my mouth, like it doesn’t belong there.
She blinks up at me, and then looks back down at the ground.
“Jocelyn.” Alex inches around me and enters the cell. “Are you alright?”
My mother only blinks her eyes, refusing to look up or speak. Tears burn in my eyes as pain and the feeling of being unwanted flood me, but I suck them back. Summoning courage I didn’t know I had in me, I step into the room and up to the bed then kneel down in front of her.
“Mom,” I say, lowering my face into her line of vision. “It’s Gemma…your daughter.”
She glances at my violet eyes, curiosity and confusion emitting from her own. Then something flickers in her expression and, suddenly, she’s really looking at me instead of through me. She leaps to her feet and starts to hug me, but then quickly retracts and wraps her arms around herself.
“What are you two doing down here?” Her voice is tight and unwelcoming. “You shouldn’t be down here.”
“We came here for you.” I glance warily at Alex and then back at her. “To save you.”
“You never should have come here,” she says, rocking back and forth as she hugs herself. “How did you even get down here?”
“With an Ira,” I explain, trying not to go into shock over her detached state of mind. She’s been here for a while. She’s been through so much. I ball my hands into fists and stab my fingernails into my palms, shifting the emotional pain inside me to physical.
She frowns up at me. “So you got your father’s power.” She says it with such hatred.
A thousand questions run through my mind, but I bite them back and grab her arm. “We have to go.”
“We need to get to water,” Alex tells her, moving up beside me. “There’s supposed to be a place somewhere down here that will take us up through the lake. A water route maybe? Do you know where it is?”