Rielle was starting to think the world was caving in on her. Sometimes if she didn't monitor her own thoughts she would become overwhelmed by the anxieties that plagued her so. What if she wasn't the Sun Queen? Then what? She just brings the downfall of her people-- or worse yet, the whole world? A selfish part of her also worried about her legacy. She so desperately wanted to be loved.
That thought- in the dim moonlight of her chambers, laying in bed, staring at the high ceilings, cold and tired- made her mind drift (as it always inevitably does) to Corien. He had been silent for weeks now, and it was driving her mad. Once, not long ago, she thought she had loved Audric. After meeting Corien that fateful day, she realized that perhaps she didn't know what that meant. Corien at times made her feel like she didn't know anything except the deepest yearning to be cherished by him.
She shivered against the breeze that drifted in through her windows. How terribly she felt thinking that with Audric sleeping next to her, but she couldn't help it. She was just so empty without the cool lilt of his voice in her head.
'Corien?' she called weakly into the depths of her soul. And she grimaced at how desperate she sounded.
There was a lapse of silence as it struck her that this was the first time she had called out to him first like that. Yes, she had initiated conversations, but it was always him who-
'Rielle, dear, I hate to hear you like that,' he said so very gently.
My God, she thought what she presumed was to herself. That voice. But she felt him somewhere, smirking just a little, and a blush spread on her face. 'Corien... I thought you abandoned me.'
A noise, one of indignation and pain, broke free from his usually collected demeanor. Somehow, she had that effect on him. 'My dearest Rielle, I wouldn't...." His voice trailed away, realizing just how raw he sounded. How pained. 'Rielle, I- I crawled my way out of the pits of hell for you. Sometimes my temper isn't in check, but I would never, ever abandon you.' He hummed quietly as Rielle absorbed what he had confessed. 'My Queen,' he said softly. 'You are my queen.'
They lapsed into silence yet again, for Rielle truly did not know what to say. This sort of tenderness- was this the Corien she knew all along? Is this what he had been hiding from her? It was a long moment before she could gather her now scattered thoughts. ‘You did that? For me?’
Something that felt like his hand reached out but then dropped slowly before she could really feel it. She closed her eyes again and concentrated fully, with her entire being, on being there with him, as she once had.
And there he was, sitting on his throne. He was just as she remembered- all full lips and high cheekbones and darkness that was so inviting and enthralling. There was a look on his face that she did not recognize at first, but slowly it registered- awe.
‘Did you really do that, Corien?’
‘…Of course. I would do that and anything under the sun for you a thousand times over. I would rip apart mountains, spill innocent blood at your call, I would… Do anything.’ He did not meet her eyes, though it did not feel like he was being dishonest. Rather, he was afraid. Her Corien, afraid.
Anything under the sun, she thought. Truly anything? A thought danced behind her eyelids, but she dismissed it. She wanted to be the Sun Queen. To run away… to give that up…
Corien’s eyes snapped upward. ‘Rielle, my love. All you have to do is say it.’
The words, they could’ve just slipped out of her and into the space they shared as easily as water down a stream. But they were lodged in her throat now. Inside was a war. Stay with Audric, be their Sun Queen, show them you have goodness inside you. Or… Run away, beg Corien to take her away from this place, they could rule the world together.
‘With me, you will never need to beg.’ She noticed now how close he had gotten to her in the moments she spent battling with herself, felt his presence from behind her. His breath tickled her ear from behind as his arms snaked around her waist.
Heartbeat quickening, she froze. ‘Truly?’
She felt his laugh more than she heard it. He was being just oh, so quiet. ‘Truly, my queen. But…’ A calculated inhale of breath. ‘I cannot promise to be good. I am no innocent. In my world, Rielle Dardenne,’ he whispered now, making it a point to use her maiden name, ‘innocence is long dead.’
She was no fool. For all his tenderness, and for all her yearning, she knew there was something wrong with him—something so dark and twisted and sinister lived deeply in his soul. But it would be a lie to say she didn’t like it, just a little bit. She placed her hands on his and tilted her head to the side to look back and him. His lips hovered so very near hers now, and she was filled with knowing then. This could be it. This could be where she changes the world once and for all.
She would give it all away for Corien.
‘Corien, could you take me away from here?’ Her voice was a gasp now. ‘Could you bring me to you, sincerely, not just in our minds?’
His fingers traced patterns on her upper stomach, over her nightgown. He hummed quietly into her ear, eyes closed as if thinking. ‘I feel, at times, that I am my weakest when I am with you. Others, I feel like you are the very home I wish to wake up to every day. What are you doing to me, my queen?’ Then he sighed. ‘I told you, darling girl, anything under the sun a thousand times over.’
He pressed a kiss to her hair now.
This was the beginning of the end of the world.