81. A Cold, White Room

Josephine was in an interview room, just like the one she’d rescued Naema from weeks ago, only much smaller. A table was in the middle, with an indicator drawn across it where a repulse wall would be. Across from her was Queen Victoria.

And she was angry. It was because of something Josephine had done to her long ago, but she couldn’t remember what. And Victoria was in the wrong body.

…Because she’d swapped bodies. Sakhr had been her pet for years. Josephine knew these things, but she couldn’t remember how she knew them.

“What do you want with me?” Josephine asked.

“What I want, I’ve already got. What I’m deciding is what to do with you now.” Victoria scrutinized Josephine. “I could put you in a tortoise, just like I did Sakhr. Or maybe I should just kill you. I’ve learned keeping dangerous powers laying around can come back to haunt you.

“Or,” Victoria continued, “I could wipe from your mind every reason you’ve ever had to distrust me. I think with enough time, I could make you a loyal subject. I would make you want to serve me. I admit I’ve daydreamed about that more than once. I could betray you one day, and you’d love me the next. I could torture you mercilessly, and you’d smile when you saw me the next morning.”

“What the hell did I ever do to you?”

“You taught me an important lesson. When Sakhr broke into my home and murdered my father, I learned a hard lesson from them.”

Josephine knew this story. She was suddenly back in that house on that night she finally left. The smell, and the blood… and that girl.

But she couldn’t recall her name. She’d said it to herself a thousand times before. She’d replay that final night over and over, thinking what she could have done differently to save the girl. But the name just wouldn’t come to her.

Victoria continued. “But it was you that taught me the hardest lesson. I knew what kind of people Alexander and Sakhr were. They only cared about my power. But for you, I spent every day that week looking forward to seeing you. Not the others, just you. I actually thought you had cared about me. That last night you dropped me off, you wished me well. You told me I had my whole life ahead of me. Everything would be all right. And I believed you. Even when I sensed something was off about you, I dismissed it. I didn’t want to think that you would see me as a threat.”

“I’m sorry,” Josephine said.

“Don’t bother.”

“Please. Listen. I let you down. I didn’t realize what they were going to do. As soon as I found I… I…”

She couldn’t remember what she did. After she walked in that house. It was all blank. She could remember remembering seeing a nightmare, but she couldn’t pull it to mind. And she realized why.

Stop!” She yelled. “What are you doing? Please don’t take this away from me.”

Victoria smirked.

“Your name?” Josephine said. “You took it away. I need to know your name.”

“It’s Victoria.”

“No. Her name. Your real name. Why are you doing this?”

“Because that girl is dead. You buried her. And I want her gone. It sickens me to thin that anyone might remember that pitiful little girl you took advantage of.

“What are you talking about? I tried to help you.”

Victoria laughed. “Yes. You convinced me my life would get better. You convinced me I was safe, and left me at that house. Then they came.”

I didn’t know.”

“Don’t act so innocent. I waited for days afterward, watching the house. You never came. I went back to the hotel and the coven had moved on. How can you say you didn’t know?”

“Look in my eyes! I did come back. I did everything I could to get there in time, but I was too late. I wanted to save you. I wanted to take you away from them so they could never hurt you.”

“No. I’ve seen through all their minds. When they had their talk, no one disagreed.”

“Because I removed myself from their memories.”

“If you’d disagreed, there would have been inconsistencies.”

“No there wouldn’t be, Victoria. I’m good at what I do. You want to know how that argument went? Look for yourself.” She moved her head into Victoria’s line of sight. “As soon as I knew what they were doing, I came as fast as I could. I just wasn’t fast enough. For that, I am truly, deeply sorry.”

Victoria did finally look at her. Her eyes held frigid hatred. She had no cynical remark for Josephine.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about that night,” Josephine said. “If I had known you were still alive, I would have come. I would have turned myself in and begged you to forgive me.”

Still, Victoria said nothing.

“I hate myself for that day. I wish I remembered your name. I wish you hadn’t taken it away from me, but I understand why you did. Please. Don’t take any more. I want to remember you. I want to remember how I let you down, because I don’t deserve to forget. I should remember the young girl I let die that—”

Victoria shot to her feet. Her chair clattered. Josephine thought she was about to lunge across the table, but she stormed off.

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