“Cat scratch fever”

Four nights he’s come to me, murmuring my name.

Kat, he says and he makes of that one syllable an exquisite melody with which not even the divine orchestral choir of all the angels in heaven could compete.

He chimes my name in the language of the Unseelie and it makes my ears ring until my mind is emptied of all thought, until my eyes are incapable of beholding any vision other than him. He is so beautiful that merely looking at him makes me weep, and when I brush tears from my cheeks, my hands come away tainted red by blood.

He wakes me but doesn’t wake me.

He takes me to a place that is so perfect and serene and free of worry that I want to stay there forever.

Kat, he says, my name is Cruce. Not V’lane. I was so weary of wearing his golden shining face. He was never half the Fae I am. I have you in the Dreaming, is it not beautiful? Do you not feel divine here with me? You need not fear me. I am not what I seem.

I am in danger.

Terrible danger.

And I cannot tell a soul because they are all looking to me to lead, to be strong and show them the way.

I am their hope.

I am afraid “their hope” will soon be beyond all hope.

They judged Rowena so harshly! They have no idea what she faced. God knows how many years she withstood similar torment before she succumbed! Who knows what caliber of person she was before the Sinsar Dubh tampered with her mind. Did it happen to her every night like it does to me? Did the darkness beneath our stone fortress beeline straight for her head, her heart, her bed, the moment she lay down and tried to relinquish for a few stolen hours the heavy mantle of rule?

I cannot help but wonder if this hasn’t been going on for millennia. If the Unseelie king knew when he interred his deadly alter ego beneath our sacred ground and charged us with guarding it then infused our blood with his own to make us strong — or is it that very kiss of evil in our veins that makes us weak? — how much hell on earth he was going to cause. How many women’s lives he would ruin. How many humans would one day die.

I wonder if thousands of times before me a woman stepped into the position I occupy, assumed leadership of our Order, and was instantly subjected to the harshest test of will imaginable: besieged by the insidious seduction of the Sinsar Dubh.

Take me, free me, be invincible, save the world.

Oh, the siren song of power. Even I who care nothing for power am not immune.

I do not believe it was ever quiet down there. Not for a moment!

I do not believe any Grand Mistress was ever spared.

Remarkable we kept it hidden so long!

He came to me that first night the Unseelie king imprisoned him beneath our home. I slept, and while I was vulnerable, he came to me in my dreams. He has come to me each night since.

I tried sleeping pills. They only drugged me, rendering me more vulnerable to the pleasures of temptation.

He shows himself to me, in all his glory. He shows me how much more beautiful Cruce is and always was. V’lane was a pale imitation of the real thing. Cruce is black and white and brilliant and hard and strong and perfect. He wraps velvet wings around me and makes me feel things I’ve never imagined.

I agree with Margery.

I want that chamber pumped full of concrete or lead or iron, or anything that might bar the path between him and me.

I do not know a tenth of the spells Rowena knew. And still she failed.

I can’t even get the door closed!

The night the Book was laid to rest, I left the chamber celebratory, with my heart feeling lighter than it had in a long time. The Sinsar Dubh was finally off the streets, and although the method of confinement was not all I’d hoped, I’d envisioned a reprieve. A time of rest and rebuilding, precious, necessary time to come to terms with the many changes in our lives, the endless killing, time to grieve the loss of our many sisters.

It was not to be.

He comes to me with his promises and his lies, with his beauty and unchained desires, and he says that I am all that he needs. He says I and I alone can rule at his side and that my special gift of emotional empathy makes me the only woman capable of ever truly understanding him to the deepest degree, on that rare and uncompromising level of emotional bonding an Unseelie prince must have, or will go mad without. He says I am his only possible mate and he has waited an eternity to have me.

He claims he is being wrongly accused, and we are all being tricked. He says he is not the Sinsar Dubh. He claims the moment he was imprisoned in his block of ice, the King took it all back.

He says we are being played by a clever, cunning, mad ruler who cares nothing for his children, who never has, who loves only his concubine, and once he had her in his arms again, reclaimed the power of the Sinsar Dubh, too. He says the concubine still isn’t fully Fae, and the King retrieved his spells so he might resume his work, that it was all sleight of hand in the chamber that night.

He tells me he was made out to look like the villain again so we wouldn’t search too hard for the Unseelie king, so we would worry instead about containing the only prince capable of stopping him when he decides our world is expendable, which Cruce assures me the King will one day do — and not too far in the future.

He tells me I must be humanity’s savior. When I am ready, he will show me the way to free him. He says that only I am strong enough, level-headed enough, to see the truth when it stands before me, wise enough to make the hard decisions.

He speaks with forked tongue and I know it!

And I am still losing the battle.

I wake in the morning smelling of him. Tasting him in my mouth, feeling his tongue on my skin. Filled with him, as no man has ever filled me: body, mind, soul. He makes love to me and I resist but somehow I’m not resisting. In my dreams I say no but do it anyway and love each exquisite, soul-charring moment of it. I wake up coming over and over again from my invisible lover. Shuddering with heat.

And need.

And shame.

My sisters count on me. I am their leader.

How will I survive this? How do I stop him from coming to me? There must be spells to block him, wards, runes to place around my bed! Maybe I should leave the abbey, now, before it’s too late. Can I leave my sisters? Dare I leave my sisters? If I don’t leave right now, will I ever again have the strength of will to go, or will I find myself down there one night, trembling hands on the bars, willing to do anything it takes to set Cruce free?

How many died the night Rowena let the Sinsar Dubh out, how many murders weighed on her conscience? Did she even have a conscience left by then or had it been corrupted completely?

Who will step up if I leave?

There’s no guarantee the next woman will be any stronger than me, or more capable of resisting his seduction. How long would Margery last, in the face of such temptation? How cruel might she become with the power of the Sinsar Dubh blackening her heart?

God help me, I must stay.

I must win this silent, invisible war, with no one the wiser.

God help me.