The Judge pointed at the far wall of her chambers, and a desert appeared. A vast gray sea of sand. The only thing that interrupted the barren landscape was an enormous reflective dome, beneath which I could make out a row of smokestacks and buildings, sticking up like crooked teeth and ringed by a dark wall.
“I want you to go in there,” she said, her finger trembling as she glared at the distant city with absolute loathing, “and destroy the portal. It’s what enables them to leave their realm and possess human bodies. They never should have gotten access to it in the first place.”
The Mazikin city didn’t look as big as the dark city, and the buildings weren’t as tall, but it was still huge. “Where is the portal?”
She lowered her hand but not her gaze. “The Mazikin are not under my authority.”
I guessed that was her way of telling me she didn’t know. “So I have to destroy the portal, and then I’m free to leave?”
“And kill the Queen. She’ll only rebuild it if you don’t.” The Judge stared at the distant dome. “She was one of the first. She carries the knowledge in her head.”
I clenched my teeth. “Okay. Destroy the portal. Kill the Queen. Anything else?”
Her eyes slid from the city to me, and her lips curled with amusement. “Isn’t that enough?”
I had chosen to die. So as I plummeted toward jagged rocks and crashing waves, I closed my eyes and let myself dream.
A sunny day. A warm breeze lifted my unruly curls. The boy who meant more to me than my own life laughed as he pulled me close and smoothed the hair out of my eyes. His easy smile softened the harshly beautiful lines of his face.
I love you, I said to him.
I know you do, he replied.
That was the way it should have been.
But I’d never gotten to say it, and he’d never gotten to hear it.
Not yet, at least. With every cell in my body, with every scrap of my soul, I would fight for that moment. The battle had already begun.