Prologue - Hidden in Shadows
I bolt upright in bed, gasping for breath, desperately trying to refill my empty lungs. At some point in the night, I had stopped breathing. I wish I could say it was an unusual occurrence, but I had been suffering from sleep apnoea since I was four years old, and at twelve, it had become an almost nightly occurrence.
Had I been born human, my condition might have very well killed me by now or, at the very least, required a heart transplant. Only the Angel blood that flowed through my veins kept me alive and healthy, but not invincible.
Even an immortal could die from lack of oxygen to the brain or worse, brain damage, and suffering an eternity in a vegetable state sounded just delightful to me. Not even the goddess herself could reverse such things, making my fear burn that much hotter every time death came knocking.
Ignoring those more than unhelpful thoughts, I count to five in my head before breathing slowly in through my nose, then out through my mouth and then repeating the process thrice over.
It took several minutes until I could finally breathe normally again. Still, despite my exhaustion, there was little chance I’d be able to get back to sleep anytime soon, my brush with death still very much clinging to the forefront of my mind.
I glance at the clock, unsurprised to see it was only a few minutes after 3 am; it always was. There was something deeply disturbing about this time of night that always gave me the creeps, though it probably had everything to do with Prince Kaden’s dark and twisted tales. He’d once told me Naraka’s realm was at its closest at this time of night, when everyone was safely tucked in bed, allowing for monsters and beasts of Naraka’s realm to slip freely into our world. Even now, those same stories still gave me nightmares.
As I lay back in my bed, I could have sworn the shadows around the room seemed to shift before my very eyes, swallowing up every spec of light. Something felt off. The air felt thick with tension, like the deathly quiet before a storm. It had to be one of my nightmares, only I knew deep down it wasn’t, this was the real deal, and it was no coincidence I was awake right now; something had been trying to warn me. “Run!” the voice inside my head demanded, but it was already too late.
Then suddenly, the silence is broken by the sound of shattering glass. So loud it almost sounded like all the windows in the corridor outside my closed bedroom door had erupted all at once, but that was impossible. The White Palace was impenetrable, not to mention we were on the fifth floor! The only way someone could have broken in here was if they had dropped onto the roof. The roof…
In the name of the White Queen, lay down your weapons, and you will not be harmed!” commanded the palace guards, crunching glass under the heel of their boots as they raced into action.
“Fuck your mercy! The Fallen King sends his regards,” retorted a deep gravelling voice. Then there was only the clash of metal scraping against metal and male grunting as they strained to swing their blades.
“Kira! Fucking run! Now” the voice demanded again, but still, I couldn’t move; my body froze in fear as I stared helplessly at the slither of light poking out from the hallway beyond my room. Unable to look away as red-hot tears leaked down my cheeks, my bottom lip trembling with barely contained panic.
No, there must be some kind of mistake; the White Palace had an alliance with the Fallen king, Kaden’s father, that bound our kingdoms together. To attack us would be an act of war. No, this wasn’t happening; this could not be happening! But it was.
Made more real by the unmistakable thud of limp flesh hitting the white marble floor as blade sliced through flesh and bone, causing the coppery tang of blood to fill my nostrils.
I cried harder, squeezing my eyes shut as I tried to push the images out of my head. Help me, please, I beg the goddess; as if in answer, the alarm sounds. Like a beckon of hope in the void of despair, drowned out the clash of swords and death. The alarm triggered a flashing red light to pierce through the darkness of my room, revealing no monsters hiding in the shadows and giving me the courage to finally move. I was not safe here.
On shaking legs, I stumble out of bed, only to crash into the dressing table, sending the contents sailing to the wooden floor.
I dare another glance at the door. Hoping the relentless beeping of the alarm had been enough to muffle the sound. Only It hadn’t been enough.
As soon as I see a hooded figure entering my room, I drop to the floor, pressing myself into the shadows of the dressing table in an attempt to hide myself—my heart beating wildly inside my chest to the point it was almost painful.
I watch with wide eyes as the intruder closes the door behind them before clicking the lock into place.
“Princess,” whispered a familiar, feminine voice, not immediately spotting me in the blinking red light. Marie. The soft-faced elder women who had raised me.
“Nanny,” I exhale in disbelief. How had she gotten here so fast? The staff quarters were not anywhere near the north wing.
“It’s me, my love,” Marie confirmed, lowering her hood to reveal her familiar long face and short black afro. Her skin, caramel brown, was a shade lighter than my own. I smile, leaping out of my hiding space toward her. Marie didn’t hesitate for a second as she pulled me into her arms, lifting me so we could see eye to eye.
“Nanny, what’s going on!” I ask, my voice not entirely my own, sounding more like a child’s whine. Marie shakes her head, carrying me toward the mirror.
“There is no time, my brave girl. Without you, the White kingdom has no future.” She urgencies only confused me more. I had a hundred questions in my head but kept my mouth shut. I knew better than to talk out of line, even to Nanny.
Hidden behind one of the delicate silver flowers in the mirror’s frame, Marie reveals a hidden keypad I had never seen before. She taps in a code; the mirror clicking then swings open on inviable hinges—the room beyond, empty and barely big enough for a full-grown adult to stand.
The bedroom door handle turned left, then right, but refused to open. I open my mouth to warn Nanny, but the banging starts before I get a word out. Brutal and violent, like the intruder was using their whole body to crash against the door. Marie didn’t say a word as she placed me into the space behind the mirror, a smile on her face that didn’t quite meet her eyes. She kissed the top of my head before closing the mirror and leaving me utterly alone in the small crawl space.
From this side of the mirror, I see into the bedroom beyond, like looking through tinted glass. Yet I knew that even though I could see Nanny, she could not see me. Why had she left me alone in here? It was not safe out there with the monsters. I sobbed, holding my hand over my mouth and nose to try and suppress the sound.
Marie turned toward the door holding her hands out in front of her. The air rippling at her fingertips. With Marie back now facing me, I could see her wings; extending from the bottom of her spine to the top, almost like butterfly wings in shape. With delicate snow-white feathers covering them, just like my own. Yet even Marie’s full-grown adult wings were only a meter in length, not nearly big enough to grant the ability to fly.
With one final shove, the door gave way to a mass of splintered wood. I didn’t recognise the male that entered, his body covered in blood and grime, but still, I could see his skin was pasty white just like Kaden’s, Marking him as one of the Fallen.
But he didn’t get very far before Marie thrust out her hand, forcing a wall of air slams into him, the fallen warrior falling back against the wall with enough force to crack bone.
But the male only laughed a bitter crawl sound that echoed off the walls. “Cute trick sanguinis pura,” The male taunts, his teeth crooked and rotten, eyes black as night. Pureblood, he had called her. Marie flinched at the words but kept her hold on her magica firm. “Give up the girl, and I might let you live,” He offered, his voice unnervingly calm.
“I will do no such thing, Demon!” Marie refused her voice firm despite the fear visibly shaking her body. The male hissed like a wild beast, thrashing against the invisible hands keeping him hostage. Marie strained against him, using both hands to keep him pinned while sucking the air from his lungs, causing the male to choke and gasp for breath, hands clawing at his throat.
But before she could kill him, another warrior flew into the room so fast he was a blur. Marie had been too focused on the first male still pinned to the wall; she overlooked the second until it was too late. Throwing his body weight into Marie to free his friend, sending them both crashing to the ground and expelling the air from her lungs.
Marie’s power faltered, making the first fall to his knees, cursing as he tried to catch his breath. Language so foul I have to cover my ears.
Marie brings up her hand, ready to blast magica at the second intruder, who sat over her chest, pinning her to the ground. But the male easily restrains her hands, forcing them flat against the floor. In a last act of defiance, Marie spits in the warrior’s face.
“Your black bitch,” he fumes, getting in her face. Then he grabbed Marie by her hair and smashed her head hard into the ground.
I squeal, unable to stop the sound before it had fallen from my lips, causing the warriors to halt what they were doing, their full attention turning toward the mirror. They looked right at me, but from the expressions, on their dark and cawl faces, I knew they couldn’t see me.
The warrior with the rooting teeth crosses the room and begins to search the wall, the bookshelf. I hold my breath, not daring to move as he throws my books and breaks my things, including a crystal snow globe that Kaden had given me for my birthday. I sob harder, pressing my hand firmly over my mouth and nose to suppress the sound.
“Tell us where the girl is, and I will make your death quick,” the second offers. Marie shakes her head, not bothering to hide her tears. The warrior smirks like he was hoping she would defy him. “Let’s play”, he breathed, like a lover’s curses.
I couldn’t watch what unfolded next; instead, I curled up in a ball on the floor in an attempt to block it all out as I sobbed quietly to myself. But it did little to mute what they did to her or the sound of Marie’s screams as they burnt and tore her flesh until there was not one recognisable feature left of my beloved nanny. The sounds were a permanent stain on my memory of her that could never be undone. Like a coward, I did nothing as they torched her. It felt like days before they finally left. Yet Marie never once gave up my position, even with her last dying breath.