I wrapped my cloak around my petite frame, nibbling on my lower lip. I had been begging my parents to let me leave the palace for most of my life. Now that I was about to, though, I was feeling a sense of... dread.
Bryan, Jr. came in with the Sword of the Thousands on his hip. He looked incredibly nervous about having it. I was sad for him. Mother had told me the true story behind his father's death and it made me a little sick to my stomach.
"Are you ready?" Bryan asked and I nodded. He smiled. "Nervous?"
"Just a little," I admitted, tugging on my cloak. "I mean, I've been wanting to leave for so long but I never thought my first time out of the palace would be on a dangerous journey."
"Not too late to stay behind."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "You don't want me to come, do you?"
He sighed. "It's not that, Cori. I'm just worried about you. Do you know how to fight?"
I shrugged. "I took lessons with Sally. Speaking of which," I murmured, looking around. "Where is my-?"
"Here you are, ma'am," a servant said, handing me my bow and a quiver full of arrows.
I beamed. "Thank you! I can't wait to use them in battle."
"Don't be so eager," Uncle David said, coming out of the throne room with Angel on his arm. "I know battle may seem... exciting for someone your age, but it's not."
"He's right," Bryan said.
He had been in two battles in his 30 years of life when our allies called on our help. He had to go for Uncle David since David wasn't able to fight. I smirked at the cane.
"Don't even think about it," my mother hissed.
I closed my eyes and focused on the cane. Everyone gasped and I opened one eye, hoping it had worked. It had. The cane was now black with a thorny vine winding up to the head. The head was in the shape of a rose and the tip of the cane was brown like dirt.
"A parting gift," I said and he chuckled, puling me into a one-armed hug.
"I like this much better than a pillar of water."
I giggled and turned to my father. He was looking incredibly conflicted. I hugged him and he held me tightly. He was shaking a little.
"Please be safe, little cub," he whispered.
"I will, Father," I said quietly. "I swear on it."
Mother was already crying when I got to her. She pulled me into a bone crushing hug and I coughed.
"Oh, Corstelis!" she sobbed.
"Mother," I gasped. "I can't breathe."
She loosened her hold slightly. "I don't want you to go."
"I know," I whispered, hugging her. "But we'll be back in two weeks. We'll be fine." Bryan cleared his throat. "Mother," I said. "Mother, you need to let me go now. We need to leave."
"Come on, Rosebud," my father said, prying her arms off of me. "They'll be safe. You'll see."
"Good luck," Angel called after us and I waved as I followed Bryan down the palace stairs.
I ran to catch up with him. My quiver was on my right shoulder along with my bow. Bryan had a large pack on his back that held all of our provisions. I hummed as we walked through the village. I ended up ahead of him and looked back. He was staring at something and I followed his gaze.
A young woman was standing by the well with a bucket, looking at him sadly. I quickly took the pack. It was heavier than I anticipated and I stumbled a bit.
"Go say goodbye to her," I whispered.
He looked uncertain so I pushed him. He glared but straightened his shirt. When he got to the woman, he took her hand and bowed. I rolled my eyes. She was looking disappointed.
"You're fooling no one, Bryan!" I called and he glared at me again. "Just kiss her and let's go!"
Even from here I could see him blushing. She was giggling, though, and he pressed his lips to hers. I could tell it wasn't their first kiss; it was too full of passion. He hugged her then came back over, snatching the pack from me.
"You embarrassed me," he grumbled.
I laughed and helped him strap the pack on again. "You didn't see her face, Bryan," I said seriously.
He frowned at me while we continued walking. "How is it you know so much about romance?"
"I'm a woman," I pointed out. "Well, I'm pretty sure I'm a woman."
He sighed but said nothing. I felt a little guilty but I didn't say anything. The subject of what I was had always been a touchy subject between me and my cousin. He's spent many hours in Uncle David's library, trying to find out if there's anyone else like me.
We paused outside of the werewolf clan. Bryan winced.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
"Yes. David told me that, when in the presence of a supernatural being, the sword reacts. I mean, it's been vibrating the whole time we've been in the castle and when I'm around you, but for some reason it got stronger."
"Probably because there are almost 150 werewolves there," I said not unkindly. "I wonder if, the more numerous the beings, the more active the sword becomes."
"Probably," he agreed.
"It's amazing how the clan has grown over the years," I commented as we walked by them.
Before we got to the end, they all bent on their knees, giving us the salute. I jumped at the sudden movement. As one, they lifted their voices in a howl. I relaxed and smiled at them. They stood back up and I returned the salute.
"Do it back," I whispered to Bryan. "They are saying goodbye and wishing us good luck. It is polite to return the gesture."
"Right," he said quickly and saluted them. They went back to their tasks. "How did you know that?"
"My father taught me. He wanted me to know all the werewolf customs even though...."
"What about Rosebud?"
"She taught me as much as she could about nymphs. She didn't know a lot, though. As for elves, she refuses to. I guess she doesn't have a good relationship with my grandmother."
"What's your grandmother's name?"
"They've only referred to her as the Queen Mother."
He laughed. "Great. So not only are we going through a forest that could eat us alive, we're seeing the immortal queen of the elves who happens to be your grandmother."
"Yep," I said cheerfully. "Should be fun!"
"I'll never understand you, Corstelis."
"That's okay. I'll never understand you, either."
He laughed and we continued on in silence. The closer we got to the forest, the more nauseated I felt. I started to walk slower and he looked at me in concern.
"What is it, Cori?"
"I just feel... sick," I said finally. "There's a lot of power in that forest Bryan. A lot of magic."
"Will you be like this the whole time? I'm not trying to get ride of you," he said quickly. "If you're going to be ill the whole journey, though, perhaps we should figure something out."
"Mother said it'll get easier the more I'm around it," I said.
"Well, at least lean on me. You're looking very pale."
I took his offered arm.
"Mother used to walk through this forest all the time, you know. That Sword; it would disappear and she'd have to search it out. She got power from the forest."
"Perhaps you will once you get used to it."
I sighed. "Maybe."
We reached the edge of the forest and stopped walking. There was a forest path that cut through. It got darker and darker as it went deeper in, though, and I felt a strange chill. It was like a hand was reaching out and curling its invisible fingers around me. It was trying to drag me in and I took a deep breath.