Chapter 11: The Breaking Point
"The Stinky Mint from the swamps is used to make teas to reduce pain and eliminate inflammation... This one here makes an ointment to soothe the muscles..." Selesdria murmured, separating and organizing Galena's herbs while remembering their names and uses.
She looked up and looked at the children. Grace and Philip, or Pip as they all called him, were sitting on the floor playing with two small wooden wolf figures carved by Ben. The gray wolf monster had a hobby of making wooden figurines in his spare time, and he was really quite talented. 'If he were a Mewman he could work as a carpenter instead of fighting a war.' The fact that the monsters had to do smuggling jobs or any kind of criminal acts to get food or money was extremely disconcerting, since they had broader capabilities than the Mewmen to perform certain jobs.
Most of them were very strong, ideal for being knights or builders, the slime of the Slimes could be used as aloe vera to cure spider bites and hydrate and soothe the skin or help heal wounds, and the Mud Dwellers or Septarians could become important allies thanks to their armies, the products of their lands or their ancient knowledge, and all this was without counting on the personal talents of each individual. 'But instead we expelled them from their own land, excluded them from society and from having rights like anyone else, insulted their culture and religion and massacred them. No wonder so many want to exterminate us.'
"Miss Selesdria, how long will we be here?" Pip asked in a lovely voice that most children his age had.
"Just a little longer, Galena will soon be back," Selesdria responded. Pip puffed up his cheeks, pouting, and left the wooden figure on the floor. "I know you're bored, both of you, but just be a little more patient, okay?"
Pip nodded and picked up the wooden figure, playing with it again. Selesdria then looked at Grace. The Cyclops girl looked back at her apathetically and turned her head away, as if trying to ignore her.
It had been a week since the children were brought to the camp. They seemed to adapt more or less to life there and were quite obedient and quiet, so they never got into trouble. The monsters at the camp were very kind to them and more than once they had offered Selesdria their help to watch them or entertain them for a while so that she could rest. It was very tempting, to be honest, but she had to politely refuse them. Pip and Grace were her responsibility until the explorers returned from visiting the villages to find a home for them and it was something Seth made very clear in front of everyone.
After finishing what she was doing, Selesdria looked at the children again. 'If boredom killed, they'd probably be lying lifeless on the floor...' A sudden smile formed on her face.
"Wait here, I'll be right back," she told them as she left the tent, with the confused looks of the children on her back.
She returned a few minutes later with Rasticore by her side. The green-flaked Septarian held a wooden bucket overflowing with water in each hand. Selesdria told him to put them down and gave him a warm smile.
"Thank you, Rasticore. It's almost impossible for me to carry that much weight."
"Hey, it's nothing, really," he said, scratching the back of his head. "Let me know if you need anything else."
Selesdria liked Rasticore. He was somewhat arrogant and conceited, like almost all Septarians, and sometimes a bit rough, but he could also be adorably clumsy and his company was pleasant, not to mention that certainly funny situations could occur around him. 'Like the story of the rotten apple...' Selesdria had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
"No, that's all. Thanks again, Rasticore."
The children approached the buckets and looked at them strangely.
"I'm not thirsty," Grace said with a frown.
"Neither am I," Pip added.
Selesdria smiled and knelt down in front of the cubes. She placed a palm of each of her hands on the surface of the water in each bucket, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She visualized her magic, that great white flame inside her burning with intensity and constancy. The flame flickered once, twice, three times and she could feel it pumping out some magic into her hands. She opened her eyes and could see how the water was bubbling without boiling. She raised her hands slowly and the water came out of the buckets, dancing around her arms and in the air like two snakes.
Selesdria narrowed her eyes and the two water currents merged, forming a sphere. With slight movements of the fingers the sphere began to spin and drops the size of a finger sprouted from the water and floated in a circular fashion around the tent, gradually taking on the shape of birds. The children's mouths opened, releasing a "wow" and looked in amazement at the creatures flying through the tent. The birds sometimes came down and circled around Grace and Pip and then rose to continue flying.
Everything was going well, until she felt a chill in her back and a tingling sensation ran through her entire body. Selesdria could see the flame getting bigger and bigger, burning stronger and wilder. The magic wanted to get out, escaping from her body, to be free... she could feel it, she could see it. 'No… Stop… No… Control it, damn it!' The flame flickered more and more and the heat whipped her head and chest. The air came out of her mouth, emptying her lungs of oxygen and she felt paralyzed. Her vision became slightly blurred, accompanied by a headache and movement in her stomach. Pip and Grace were so distracted they didn't notice what was happening to her. Her gaze remained fixed on the sphere; it was the only thing she could see clearly. She was motionless, but still the water came closer and closer until the water was all her eyes could see.
Suddenly she felt as if she had fallen face first into a river and sank deeper and deeper, with shadows clouding her vision as lovers. A winter wind blew and her blood froze as the darkness vanished in an instant as if thunder had struck. She heard the roar of the storm in the night and the song of a battle with the melody of the pounding of steel against steel. She saw a forest consumed by flames so high that they grazed the treetops, projecting the figure of a one-eyed man who laughed as the ashes danced in the air, and then she saw a girl with long blonde and silver hair lying on a bed with bloody sheets, the smell of death and flowers everywhere.
The girl raised her head and Selesdria almost screamed when she saw it was her, with the marks on her cheeks glowing and four-pointed gold stars in her eyes. Tears fell from her eyes down her cheeks like waterfalls, her face full of rage and pain. She stared at her, opened her mouth and an unnatural cry came out. Selesdria felt a horrible pain in her womb, as if she had been stabbed, and watched in horror as blood stained her belly and fell down her thighs. Blood piled up on her feet and went up, covering her ankles, legs, waist, chest and shoulders. Selesdria and her doppelganger looked at each other and both screamed, one sad and the other terrified, until the blood came into her mouth and drowned her.
Selesdria woke up with a gasp, almost screaming, taking all the air her lungs could hold. She felt exhausted and feverish, sweat was running down her face to her neck and her body was shaking with chills. 'No, it's because of fear,' she corrected herself. The cries resounded in her eardrums and the memory of the sea of blood was stirring her guts. Selesdria examined her surroundings, hoping to escape the horrible visions. She was still in Galena's tent, lying on the bed with the sheets up to her shoulders. On the floor there were puddles of water of various sizes, and there was no sign of Pip and Grace.
The images of blood came back to her. Selesdria pulled the sheets aside and examined her belly and legs. Everything was clean and the little curve that was already forming from the pregnancy was still intact. She rubbed the tiny lump gently, full of relief but still very anxious, and from the movement inside her it seemed that the baby was nervous too. It's just a nightmare, she told herself, although it had all been too real to be just a dream or a hallucination.
"I see you're finally awake," Galena entered the tent and put a hand on his forehead. "Hm, your fever hasn't gone down. You'll have to stay in bed a little longer.
"Galena," Selesdria's voice was hoarse and dry. "What happened to me? Where are the children?"
"The children are fine, Benjamin and Sally are looking after them," the old woman gave her water from her canteen to drink. "When I entered the camp I found Philip and Grace, screaming that you fainted suddenly while playing with them. Everyone's worried about you; you've been sleeping till sundown. I'll make you an infusion to help lower your fever."
Selesdria blew and drank the tea with small sips, savoring and distinguishing the different ingredients with her palate. She had been left alone because the Frog Woman had gone out to take care of one of the soldiers who had just suffered a hunting accident far from the camp, so she would probably not return until late at night. 'And I will be waiting for her, awake...' Screams, laughter, flames, blood and the clash of steel went round in her mind in an endless cycle, repeating the same thing over and over again. Her magic was responsible for those visions, she knew it, but did they really have a meaning? Could they come true? Selesdria had read stories in her childhood about oracles and seers, people who could see the future or the past vaguely or very clearly, but she had always thought they were not real.
"That's all they are: children's stories," Selesdria muttered. "But if by any chance they are real... No, I'm just being paranoid."
"What are you whispering, princess?"
Toffee had entered the tent without making a sound, as quiet as a shadow. He knelt beside the bed and took her hand, staring into her eyes.
"I heard what happened this morning. How do you feel?"
"A lot better, Galena has been taking care of me," she put the tea down and threw herself into the Septarian's arms, burying her face in his neck, enjoying his smell and his warmth. "What about you? You haven't had any problems, have you?"
"We've had a few setbacks, but everything is almost ready. We should be done in a few days at most."
"I'm glad; you've been too busy these days. We've barely been able to spend any time together."
Toffee and the entire army were preparing to fight the Solarian Warriors. He had to watch the morning training, organize patrols and hear the reports they brought him. Then he would go into the forest with several groups of monsters and come back at nightfall exhausted. There were days when Selesdria would wake up and he was already gone. It was to be the last battle of the war, the decisive battle in which an army would remain; an all or nothing. 'More like all for nothing,' Selesdria thought. She knew how it would all end, she had learned from history lessons and from books. The Solarian Army dispersed the Monster Army and drove them back to the depths of the Forest of Certain Death, to the border of the dark monster nations, where almost no Mewman had dared to travel and return alive.
Selesdria wanted to tell everyone not to fight, that they had no chance of winning and that they should go home to their families, but she couldn't. To begin with, no one would believe her, and even if they did, they would not run away after so many deaths, sacrifices and suffering. She considered that if Toffee or Seth ordered it then the soldiers would have no choice but to obey, but she dismissed that idea as quickly as she had thought of it. The king and the prince had, unfortunately, things in common: pride and thirst for battle. None of them would order a retreat without fighting first; it would be cowardly to flee and hide without facing the enemy and allowing them to have their way.
'Mosi, on the other hand…' Toffee's mentor left in the middle of the night the same day the children were brought to the camp, without saying anything to anyone, not even a final goodbye to his ward. Her husband would not admit it and acted indifferent to it, but Selesdria knew full well that he was hurting inside. He was not upset, but angry; she could see it through his eyes. 'He considers him weak for running away, but I think he just wants to live in peace, away from war. He always looked very sad and tired... Maybe it's true that the older you get, the easier you learn to give up.'
"After the war and we take care of Seth we will have all the time in the world to ourselves," he assured kissing her hand. Selesdria felt butterflies in her stomach and a chill ran through her body. "Tell me, is there anything in particular you want to do?"
"Travel," Selesdria replied, pushing her concerns aside for a moment. "I want to see the mountains, forests, rivers and valleys all over Mewni, I want to visit the different kingdoms and get to know their people and culture and I want to go the volcano where the vacation home of my family is located. But I would certainly start by going to the beach!"
"Right," Toffee muttered thoughtfully. "You spent your whole life in that pompous and outlandish castle and couldn't see any wonders of the outside world, but why the beach?"
"I don't understand what the sea is. I know what it is, but I don't understand it. I have never seen the sea except in pictures in books and my imagination," Selesdria began, revealing thoughts and emotions she had hidden from others. "Every time my sister returned from playing on the beach with her friends or I heard someone else talk about their boat trips I couldn't help but feel jealous and embarrassed at the same time. Jealous that they had the freedom to go wherever they wanted without any impediment, and embarrassed to feel that they were talking about something fascinating when in fact it was something very normal," she felt her cheeks turn red. "The same thing happened every time my father or others talked about camping or how they visited neighboring kingdoms. They would talk and comment, I would listen and ask, but I couldn't really participate in the conversation because even though I knew what they were talking about I didn't understand it, I hadn't seen it with my eyes. There is so much I don't know and I find fascinating, but for everyone it is perfectly normal... You don't have any idea how frustrating it is!"
Toffee stared at her in complete silence, as if waiting for her to say something else. Selesdria felt more embarrassed than before and looked away. She had never revealed to anyone how anxious she was to see the world (partly because she had no one to talk to and was afraid they would think she was being childish) and when she had finally done so she had to release such a speech.
"I'm sorry; you must think it's silly that I make such a big deal out of it..."
"You're not silly at all, you could never be," he assured with a seriousness that almost seemed solemn. "You're more ambitious and passionate than you look, you know that?" he smiled.
"Ambitious?" Selesdria meditated for a moment."I guess that's one way of calling it. There are more things that I want to do that seemed impossible to achieve before, but now I feel that I have more strength to achieve them and that my desire to do so has increased.
"Ambition is one of the greatest forces moving the world," Toffee said. "It gives us the strength to be better and to achieve what we set out to do. Without ambition nothing begins, and without work nothing is finished."
"You too have ambition," she gently affirmed, resting her head on his chest. "I see it when you look at the troops, when they call you "lieutenant" or when you told me you are the prince of the dark monster nations. You never brag about it or show it, but I see in your eyes the satisfaction it brings you."
"Does it bother you?" he raised an eyebrow.
"No," Selesdria admitted, "I'm curious. You're already a prince and a lieutenant, and if all goes well you'll be a general and a king soon, but is that enough for you?"
Toffee said nothing and looked at her thoughtfully, as if reflecting on what he was about to say next.
"Why do you think I want to be king?" he finally said.
Power, gold, a castle and territory; those were the reasons why people usually wanted to be a member of the royal family, Selesdria was well aware of that. Ignorant people believed that royalty could do and say whatever they wanted just because they were the most powerful, but this was not the case. The royal families bore the burden of the kingdom and the responsibility of ensuring the economy, food, good relations with neighboring kingdoms, protecting and caring for their subjects and much more. A crown did not represent power, but dignity, leadership and a duty to the people.
"You want all the monsters to fight the Mewmans and the Butterfly family to take back Mewni, but you want to be the one to lead them, am I wrong?"
"Someone has to take the lead in this fight, don't you think?" he replied, his eyes staring at Selesdria's, but also seeming to look beyond, "Someone has to step up and take responsibility for all the good and bad that will happen in the future, you can't just wait for someone else to suddenly show up and take all the choices with what that would mean. If you want something done right, you do it yourself."
"But a war is not going to solve anything!" Selesdria argued with a scowl, shaking her head back and forth with a negative gesture. "It will only cause more and more suffering! If only we could talk..."
"Talk?" Toffee sighed and ran his hand through his long hair. He looked frustrated, but also tired. "Selesdria, there is too much bad blood between monsters and Mewmans to negotiate, besides, we are soldiers! We fight with tooth and claw, not with words."
"I am a Butterfly, and yet you accepted me among your own. Need I remind you that I carry our daughter in my belly? She will be half Mewman half Septarian, Toffee!" Selesdria grunted, resting one hand on her stomach and clutching the sheets with the other. She took a deep breath, calming her heartbeat and her anger, and spoke more calmly, but with the same firmness. "The relationship between monsters and Mewmans is more important than you think. What if our daughter is disowned by both sides for being a hybrid? What if she doesn't find a place in the world that accepts her as she is and ends up making fateful decisions?"
"It's not the same," Toffee shook his head and stood up. "You are different from the rest of them; you are an exception, like Eclipsa. You are reasonable, kind, fair and able to see things as they really are. And our daughter will be fine; it is true that some monsters will not like her because of her blood, but many others will accept her either because she is our daughter or because of her abilities," he explained confidently. "The most important thing for monsters is the abilities and the results, but your people are... are..."
Selesdria felt her stomach turn; she didn't like where this conversation was going.
"What?" she asked when he didn't continue. She swallowed saliva and felt more uneasy than before. "What were you going to say? What are my people like, Toffee?"
Toffee seemed to hesitate for a second about what to say, but soon his face became more severe and his eyes sharper and colder.
"Your people are a bunch of lazy, greedy and intolerant people who can't care or think for themselves and believe they are better than everyone else even among themselves. They are so weak and useless that they would not be able to survive without help. They are like children who do not grow up and your family and the Magic High Commission does nothing to change it, but they encourage this behavior and this hatred towards us with their lies and their arrogant attitude, making them the worst rulers Mewni will ever have. The best thing would be for your family, along with the Commission, to disappear."
Selesdria was stunned by the wave of hate and insults coming from her husband. She already knew that he had a grudge, and quite rightly so, against her people, but she never thought that she would hear him say such a tirade, let alone with her in front of him.
Toffee was not including her in his anger, and everything he had said was true, but she could not help but feel humiliated and angry; she was a Butterfly, a Mewmen princess, and felt ashamed of the conduct of her family and her people but also outraged by the amount of grievances directed at them, at her. 'Not all my people are this bad... And yet he wants to kill them all...' Selesdria lowered her head so that Toffee did not see the tears building up in her eyes.
"I'm sorry to tell you this, Selesdria, but it's better to annoy with truths than to please with lies," he was apologizing, but his tone of voice didn't seem to assure it, and that made Selesdria even angrier.
He was talking about genocide, the extermination of entire families, innocent and harmless people who had nothing to do with the cycle of hate and revenge between the two species. Selesdria had thought that when he said that monsters would deal with the Mewmans he meant sending them into exile or conquering the territory and making things fairer by sharing land and assets, but not this.
"It's taking things too far," she managed to say despite the lump in her throat.
"Too far?" he sounded offended. "It's exactly the same thing they've been doing to us for generations! It is the only way to atone for the sins of your people, even if you're too naive to realize it!"
Selesdria felt that he was scolding her as if she were a foolish child who had just done something she shouldn't have. She took several breaths to calm herself, but the Septarian's words stung like an open wound and it was impossible for her to think coherently. She believed in her heart that coexistence was possible, that if people realized that if a monster and a Mewman could fall in love and have a child it would be proof that there could be peace. 'But Eclipsa loved a monster too, and no one knows what really became of her,' Selesdria recalled with anguish. Thinking of the Queen of Darkness made her wonder if she was ever in a situation like hers.
"You may not understand it now, but in time you will realize that I am right."
Selesdria felt the heat of the magic spreading through her body; every word he said made her more nervous, indignant and angry. She bit her tongue and breathed again, but nothing stopped the trembling of her fingers and the heat. By the time she realized it she had opened her mouth and started talking uncontrollably.
"I am already aware of the sins of my people and family, I don't need anyone to remind me of them," she hissed, the anger made her voice sound like ice. "And don't you dare call me naive or tell me that I don't understand anything. Just because I have spent my life locked up in a castle and in bed does not mean that I am ignorant of Mewni's problems."
"What? Selesdria, I didn't..."
"Nor do you have the right to accuse my people of arrogance or intolerance because that makes you a hypocrite," she interrupted him, "You Septarians are constantly believing that you are superior to others and boasting of your regenerative ability, cutting off body parts and growing them even in front of monsters who have had to amputate hands or tails to survive, you are too insensitive. And the fact that you talk about exterminating my people makes you as bad as or even worse than Solaria!"
Toffee's jaws came loose from the top and his eyes were so wide that they looked like they were going to pop out. That expression lasted only a few seconds; his face reddened with anger, he clenched his jaw tightly, his sharp fangs stood out in the candlelight and his eyes became cold and sharp as swords.
"Oh, I see. Is that what you really think?"
"It's better to annoy with truths than to please with lies," Selesdria said, defiant and fearless.
"Well, let's talk about more truth," his voice sounded deep and dangerous. He approached the bed slowly, like a predator stalking its prey. "Do you know why there are so many years of peace for the Mewmans after every war? It is because of fear, the fear of my people and their spilled blood! There is not a single piece of land in Mewni that is not a monster's grave. You believe that everything can be solved through dialogue, but you're just a stupid little girl with stupid little dreams who knows nothing of the world!"
"Wait, you think I only care about Mewmen?" Selesdria raised an eyebrow, astonished.
"Oh, I'm sorry Your Highness, have I offended you? But why not?" he grunted, standing about six feet away from her. "You're defending them, and as you said yourself, you're a Butterfly. The Butterflys, your dear family, started all this and have been killing monsters for centuries, they don't even consider us people!"
"I know! For the sake of gods, Toffee, I know!" Selesdria exclaimed, feeling that tears were about to well up in her eyes. She was so upset that her hands were shaking uncontrollably and a small light was coming out of her fingertips. She hid her hands in the sheets and took a breath again and again. "I want the best for Mewni, for the monsters and the Mewmen, and for that both sides must coexist, not destroy each other!"
"The best thing for Mewni is that it belongs to the monsters, its rightful owners. Your people invaded our homes, expelled us, demonized us, ostracized us and created a cultural feast to celebrate how we were massacred! Do I have to remind you that because of your kind I have no one left in my family? They must disappear!"
She couldn't take it anymore. The lump in her throat choked her, her stomach churned, her cheeks were warm and tears clouded her eyes. She looked away, not wanting Toffee to see her like that, trying to breathe and count numbers to calm that anger, those nerves that were eating away at her. 'Why doesn't he listen to me? Why doesn't he try to understand the position I'm in?!' When she heard him approach again, it was her breaking point.
"If all Mewmen must die, then so must I!" She grabbed the sheets and pulled them to her head in an attempt to prevent her from looking at him completely, but they slipped from her fingers and Selesdria felt an uncontrolled wave of power come out of her hand.
A glow blinded her vision; she heard the sound of an explosion, an exclamation of pain and something breaking. The entire colour on Selesdria's face disappeared and she looked at what her magic had done in horror. What she had done. Her husband had been thrown against the table with such force that he broke it and the pieces of wood were scattered on the floor, but that was not the worst thing. Where Toffee's right arm had been there was nothing left. Selesdria felt her heart stop beating and her soul shattered. She had hurt him, she had hurt the person she loved most!
Toffee stood up, grunting as he looked down at his missing arm. The arm regenerated in a matter of seconds, as if nothing had happened to it. He looked at her, and Selesdria shrugged at his scowl and his golden eyes that glowed like embers. When he took a few steps towards her, fear took hold of Selesdria and she acted irrationally. She shouted at him to stay away from her and more things that she herself did not understand. She threw the pillows, the sheets and any other object within reach to her, and Toffee responded by dodging the attacks or blocking them while saying something, although she could not hear what. The last thing she threw at him was the cup of tea Galena made for her. Toffee stepped aside and the cup exploded on the floor with a thud.
"In the name of the ancient Septarian kings and all the gods, what is going on here?!" Seth burst into the tent, hissing and showing his fangs in an imposing and furious posture.
Behind him Galena entered and other monsters peeked out from the outside with worried and curious glances. The Septarian King and the healer looked at the inside of the tent in disbelief and then at Selesdria and Toffee, mute as if their tongues had been torn out. There was shouting, accusations and protests until Seth grabbed Toffee and pulled him out of the tent. Galena knocked Selesdria down on the bed and forced her to drink something that made her nerves disappear and her sleep consumed her.
The next morning Selesdria woke up with a severe headache, tired and still in shock from what happened the night before. As she emerged from the tent all eyes with all sorts of glances fell on her. When she saw Toffee and he looked back at her, Selesdria turned and walked back into the tent, rubbing her arms and looking at her hands, shaking. 'What have I done? What have I done?! I attacked him, I hurt him! Now he hates me! Now he fears me! Maybe... maybe Mother and the Commission were right when they locked me in the castle and gave me the bracelet... Maybe I am too dangerous.'
Selesdria lay on the bed and covered herself with the blankets up to her head, sinking into a sea of tears and despair.