"Um, are you sure about this?" my father asked, watching while my mother straightened up the library with a cheerful smile on her face.
"Positive," she said happily.
"But she's a human," he said. "What if she-"
"I thought she was doing farming," I interrupted.
"So what is she doing instead?" my father asked.
"Medicine," my mother answered, pulling out a large stack of papers and some quills and ink.
"But why you? Why not the village doctor?"
"Because the village doctor is busy and I will be soon, too. Now shoo. Both of you. Send her here when she arrives."
She shoved us out of the room and I narrowed my eyes.
"She's lying," I said as we walked down the stairs.
He sighed. "Yes, I know."
"So why is she really coming?" I asked. "It's not like Mother to lie!"
"Just let it go, Cian," he said.
I rolled my eyes and someone knocked on the palace door. I waved the butler to the side and opened it. Viveka stood there, looking incredibly nervous until she saw me. She glared and went to walk around me but I blocked her.
"Why are you here?" I demanded.
She arched a brow. "For lessons with Queen Darcey. Now excuse me, please."
"I thought you were doing farming," I said, not moving.
She pressed her lips together angrily. I glared and stretched out my mind. But then something strange happened.
I hit a wall.
"Move," she said firmly.
I did without thinking. She stalked past me.
"She's in the library," my father said, having stayed behind me for the whole exchange.
"Thank you," she mumbled and went upstairs.
"What's wrong, Cian?" my father asked when I didn't shut the door.
I was still watching the corner that Viveka had just gone around. Slowly, I closed the door. He stood in front of me, looking troubled at my silence.
"Cian?" he repeated, waving his hand in front of my face.
I blinked a few times.
"I can't read her mind, Father," I said and he stared up the stairs, too. "I could before but now.... There's a wall."
"That's strange," he mumbled.
"Why is she really here?" I asked, shaking myself out of it.
My father rolled his eyes. "Let it go, Cian."
He walked into the throne room but I took my boots off, putting them by the base of the stairs. I crept up them and to the library. I put my ear to the door.
"Go away, Cian," my mother said and I cringed.
The door flew open, hitting me in the head, and I fell over.
"Hey!" I shouted at Viveka.
She stood, her arms crossed around her waist with a medical book in her hand.
"Eavesdropping again?" she snapped.
"I wasn't eavesdropping," I lied. "I came for a book."
"Without your boots?" she asked.
"Who are you? My mother?" I snarled.
She stepped to the side and I walked in with a straight back, pulling on my shirt. I grabbed a random book and heard whispering then loud giggles. I spun around.
"101 Ways to be the Perfect Princess?" Viveka sneered.
I looked at the bright purple book in my hand and shoved it back into the bookcase.
"I'll get it later," I said and stormed out, slamming the library door behind me.
I heard them laugh more and rolled my eyes. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, my father walked out, looking grim. Waiting for the lecture, I put my boots back on.
"Come on, Cian," he said quietly. "This is... unpleasant."
I frowned and followed him into the throne room. A woman was standing in front of the thrones. She was wrapped in a thick blanket but still shaking as if she was cold. She was pale and her hair was a mess with twigs and leaves sticking out of it. Her dress was torn in a few places and I knew right away she had run through the forest.
I sat down slowly and she wiped more tears from her face.
"Tell me again," my father said kindly.
"Must I?" she whimpered.
"Please. My son needs to hear it from you."
Her shoulders fell. "But your majesty...."
"Please," he prompted and I felt the power push from him.
I stared at him with wide eyes. The only time he used his influences on humans was when he interrogated them over serious matters. I straightened up and leaned forward, trying to give her a reassuring smile but knowing I failed miserably.
"I-I was delivering a message," she began in a breathy voice. "I work for the butcher, you see, and we are running short on cow. It's terrible. The ones here are sick and-" She stopped herself and took a deep breath. "Anyway, my route always takes me by that village. You know, the one that burned down?" She wiped her tears away. What happened to her? "When I passed it the first time, everything was normal. Then, coming back, I saw something out of the corner of my eye."
She broke into sobs and a guard came in with a cup of what I assumed was whiskey. This woman was scared out of her wits and I frowned, my eyebrows coming together.
She drank it in one gulp, shuddering at the taste, and took a few more deep breaths.
"I turned and saw-saw a grey... thing. It crawled on all fours and-and was so thin I could see its bones!" She let out a wail, dropping the cup and it shattered. "It was coming right for me! It didn't have any eyes or a nose! All it had was-was a mouth full of fangs! I've never run so fast in my life. I-I thought it was following me and-and so I ran through the forest. I-"
Her fear overwhelmed her and she fainted. The guard had been standing there and caught her before she hit the floor. I stared at her, wishing I could read her mind but I couldn't when she was unconscious.
"Take her to a room to recover," my father said. "Send someone to let the butcher know she has fallen ill and he can come get her when she has woken up."
"Yes, your majesty," he said and carried her out.
"Holy shit," I breathed, passing my hand over my face. "Do you think she was lying?"
My father shook his head. "Come now, Cian. Don't play stupid. You know she wasn't."
"But what could it be?" I asked. "I've never heard of such a creature!"
"I haven't, either," he said, staring out the window and tracing his lips with his finger. "I don't have a clue as to what it could be. Fangs suggest a vampire or a werewolf. There are many other creatures, yes, but none in this area."
I shook my head. "Cerebus is the nearest vampire and he's 300 miles away."
"Perhaps we should send someone down there," I said. "For all we know, it did follow her."
"I don't think it did. We would sense it."
"But I do sense something, Father," I said. "Something... something dark."
"I do, too," he said. "But it doesn't feel close. No, whatever it is has stayed in the village." He cleared his throat. "You'll lead an expedition there," he said and I nodded. "Plan to leave in one week. I want to do some more research on this village and try to find out what happened to it."
"You don't know?"
He shook his head. "It happened before we came here. I know it was burned down during the war, though."
"You mean the war that separated the races?"
"That's the one," he nodded. "The humans don't know about it, of course. I think the rumor is that it was burned down by vengeful spirits."
I snorted. "Humans are ridiculous. They'll spread rumors about our existence then fight it when faced with the truth."
"That's true," my father said.
I looked at him. "You're really worried about this, aren't you?"
"Whatever is out there is dangerous, Cian," he said, looking back out the window. "Whatever it is.... It's different; something we've never come up against."
"What are you saying, Father?"
He looked me in the eyes. "I'm saying that, if we don't find out what it is and stop it, even we will be in danger."