My name is Roselia Loren.
Today I woke up and realized I’m no longer the faerytale princess. In one night, I lost the two people in the world who were most dear to me, and now I’m forced to shoulder responsibilities I never imagined. I can feel the walls of my ivory tower crumbling, and there’s nothing now that can spare me from the darkness outside the walls.
Our city is divided. For centuries my family has warred with the Telyras across the Wall.
My heart is growing cold inside me, but it’s still beating. And that’s what scares me the most. I’m putting my trust in all the wrong places … like the handsome lieutenant that stabbed my father’s general in the back. If he’s a traitor, then what am I?
But I know it’s time to stop running.
Could there still be a happy ending for me?
My name is Andreas Telyra.
For twenty-two years, I’ve been fighting a war that isn’t mine, chained to this inherited destiny by a crown I can’t remove. My heart is black and charred inside me, and I feel a darkness crawling through my veins.
Now my only hope is Roselia Loren, the daughter of my lifelong nemesis. Maybe she’s different. More likely she’s as savage as the rest of her cursed line. And even if she isn't? I’ve taken those she loves from her forever. She has grown up to stories of my brutality—most of them true.
I’m so close to giving up, to relinquishing the last shred of my humanity. If I do, I’m pretty sure the next casualty will be someone close to me.
There are no happy endings for me. But I have to try. The light in me is dying.
And if Roselia Loren doesn’t listen … I’m damned.
The city is endless. Dingy shops and ugly strip malls and shabby hotels and shadowy pawn shops with the occasional group of men hanging listlessly about them. Forgotten street corners. Homeless camping along torn fencing. Empty, cracked lots. A cheerless plaza with a gaudy fountain. A nearly lightless underpass, at the other end of which is an abandoned stop covered top to bottom in graffiti. Boys are standing in the shadows. The gray is thicker here, darker. The trolley lurches forward again, and I look out to see that we’re in the middle of a tremendous, sprawling trackyard. Tracks and tracks and tracks, crisscrossing like the healed-over scars of a deranged maniac’s knife on his own flesh.
It’s what has always shaken me most about humanity: how vacuous most are, how barren, how desiccated and drab, how unoriginal and incurious and sparkless. How violently anxious they are to be just like everyone else, and for everyone else to be just like them. I look at the woman in the scarf. I study her. She’s sitting directly across the aisle from me.
She could be a great-grandmother. Her wrinkled face is like a prune that’s been dipped in wet cement and left to dry in a public toilet. Her gray hair is tied up under the scarf. But it’s not gray hair: it’s a stringy mix of used adult diapers and stale cigarette smoke, of a corrosive and ill-spent youth and conspicuous-consumption landfill, of lost days and Chicken McNuggets slathered in pus, of back-alley abortions and liposuctioned fat dumped into a forgotten and beaten-up washing machine found in a junkyard.
She’s staring at the back of the seat in front of her. She doesn’t notice me. Her eyes are bottomless with the will to nothing and yellowing like her teeth. The trolley stops and she rises to get off. I watch her go.