Please don’t leave me, don’t leave me, I’ve changed my mind, take this power away, the whispers won’t stop.
The sunlight through the windows shifts. I stay on the ground.
I have no idea how much time passes. Or how long I cry. I don’t know where Violetta might have gone. I don’t know where Magiano went, or what he might be thinking. After some time, I finally cry everything out of my chest, and there are no more tears left in me. I stay on the ground. I watch the lattice of shadows from the windows move slowly along the floor. The light changes, turns golden. The shadows and highlights stretch until they reach me, bathing me in light. Even the warmth of the sun cannot make the darkness in my stomach go away.
Gradually, my thoughts start to turn. And slowly, slowly … the whispers start to come back. They caress my mind.
No, Adelina, this is better.
You don’t need to care about her leaving. Haven’t you already learned that love and acceptance are less important than the power of fear? The control over those you know?
I nod, letting the thought strengthen me. I don’t need to lean against my sister in order to stand up. I can do it on my own. Without anyone.
I slowly push myself onto my feet, wipe my face with my sleeve, and run trembling fingers along the monstrous, eyeless side of my face. My expression settles into something numb and hard. I turn to face the throne at the top of the steps. My illusions start to spark again, and darkness blurs into the corners of my vision, leaving the throne as the only thing I can see.
I walk up the steps toward it. Around me, ghosts of those I have once known fade in and out, those I have left behind. Who left me. I make my way up each step. The whispers in my mind roar, filling every crevice, shoving out the light and letting the darkness flood in.
This is good, Adelina. This is the best way.
I have earned my revenge on everyone who hurt me. My father, who tortured me every day—I crushed his chest and his heart. Teren, sick and twisted and mad—I took away his beloved just as he took away mine. Raffaele, who betrayed and manipulated me—I seized control of the prince he loves, and I made sure he watched his prince destroy in my name.
And Violetta, darling, dearest sister who turned her back when I needed her the most. I cast her out. I finally said everything to her that I wanted to say.
I have hurt back.
You’ve won, Adelina, the whispers say.
I reach the throne. It’s beautiful, an ornate structure of gold and silver and stone. Lying in the center of its cushion is Giulietta’s former crown, heavy with gems. I reach down and pick it up, admiring the jewels as they wink in the light, running my fingers along their hard surfaces. I walk once around the throne, gripping the crown. This is mine. I lift the crown to my head, then put it on. It is heavy. Finally, I sit in the chair, then lean back and rest my arms on its sides.
How long ago it was, when I used to crouch along the stair railings in my old home and fantasize about this, of wearing such a crown and looking down from my own throne. I lift my head high and stare out at the chamber. It is empty.
This is what I have fought so hard for, what I sacrificed and bled so much for. This is everything I ever wanted—revenge against my enemies for what they’ve done to me. And I’ve achieved it. My revenge is complete.
I force a smile onto my face. In the silence, I sit alone on my throne and wait eagerly for all the satisfaction and triumph to hit me. I wait, and wait, and wait.
But it doesn’t come.