Imperial Affliction

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Chapter 8

Zenobia’s P.O.V

My bare feet scarcely thudded against the sodden brush as I propelled my body towards the castle. A light drizzle that had once misted the earth was quickly turning into a pelting downpour.

The loose curls that hung around my face now clung to my cheek and neck as I darted through the thick woods. I could feel the sting where the splinters of wood that were broken and erect from the dirt sliced into my skin.

But I didn’t falter.

The screams sounding in the direction from the castle were heart wrenching and faces of the people I worked along side every day flashed before my eyes, then my siblings, and lastly Soren. As I raced against their cries of agony, my breaths burned through my lungs.

Finally I tore through to the clearing where that stupid bunny had given me away, the guard still lying cold in the grass. The smell of smoke invaded my senses as I saw that the east side of the castle wall was on fire; the rainfall doing very little to extinguish it.

Despite the cuts on my legs and my still burning chest, I pushed myself forward, running with renewed strength as I saw the fire licking up and down the castle that was seeming to spread.

I kept myself low once more as to not get caught by the invaders.

How ironic. Running from my captors and now I’m trying to find them.

Quietly I made my way into the back door of the kitchen and through the little hallway that led to the dining hall. Smoke was quickly filling the air and I saw several bodies littering the concrete floors. My hand shot up to cover my mouth when I spotted a familiar face.

There near the exit opposite of where I stood, in a pool of blood, laid Aurelia with her heart ripped from her chest. Her eyes were wide open from terror, conpletely soulless. Her dark blonde hair lay fanned out and bloodies around her, almost like a halo.

Bile rose in my mouth.

I was about to turn to go further towards the barracks when my eye caught movement just further beyond where Aurelia’s lifeless form lay. Cautiously, I took a few steps forward and gasped when Odette heavily lifted her head, like she was just waking up from a deep sleep.

I rushed over to her.

Crouching down I looked for any signs of injury, spotting what looked to be a broken ankle and gash across her stomach.

“Odette.”

She drowsily brought her eyes up to meet mine, tears brimming her long lashes. She looked dazed and confused as she started coughing. “Where is...” She started wheezing and coughed a few more times.“... Aurelia?”

My heart shattered in my chest as I realized she had no idea that her sister was right next to her, not breathing. Tears pricking my own eyes, I looked back at her unblinking.

“Odette...” I started to tell her but I the words just couldn’t form on my lips. Instead I said the only thing I could think of. “I don’t know where she is but we have to get out of here now or we will both end up dead and it wont matter where Aurelia is.” This time the coughing came from me as the smoke was starting to thickly cloud the air. “Can you try to walk if I help you?”

She heavily shook her head no.

Hooking both of my arms under her shoulders, I quickly pulled her away from our dead sister, back into where the air wasn’t as thick with the smoke. I gently pulled her through the kitchen door and propped her up against the frame near the covering of a thick bush. I pushed the dark blonde hair from her eyes and tore a piece of the clothe from my tattered dress, long enough to wrap it around her abdomen.

“Odette, I need you to hold this over you wound tightly. Can you stay hidden and stay quiet?” I start grabbing some mud and plastering it over top of the make shift bandage to conceal some of the scent of her blood. She weakly nodded her head and laid her hand over the torn cloth. Placing mine over her I applied more pressure, signaling to her to do the same. “I will be right back.”

Panic flooded her eyes.

“No! You can’t leave me,” she started whimpering to me.

“I know you’re hurt and this is all very frightening, but I have to go see if anyone else needs help... People are dying and we have to help each other.” My words choked me as I spoke of people dying, very aware that she would never speak to her twin again.

“Please,” she wheezed out, “please look for her.”

My throat felt thick and tears pricked my eyes once more. “I will.” And with that I headed back into the thick cloud of smoke.

Careful to go the opposite direction from where Aurelia’s body was, I made my way deeper into the thick smoke that was crawling its way throughout the castle. My father’s soldiers lay in pools of blood everywhere I looked. I couldn’t hold back the coughing that seemed incessant now as I finally found my way to the barracks.

My eyes quickly darting into each cell, I saw wolves, presumably the ones who had just had their First Shift, laid dead. Some with broken necks, some with missing hearts.

My own heart sped up as I looked for Soren.

Please be safe, please be safe...

As I rounded the last corner I saw them.

About five men, tall and thick muscled, stood around one wolf. Thick, angry scars covered nearly every inch of visible skin. Their hair, all different shades and textures , were similar in how they were all tied back at the nape of their necks. Each one bore a brand of some marking on the right of each of their shoulders. The grey haired one, who I assumed was their leader by the way he held the grey wolf by the tufts of his fur, was missing his left eye.

Recognition shot through me when I saw the wolf. He was the one I had seen in my dream.

The rogue was about to snap the neck of the wolf when a fit of coughing interrupted him.

Damn it.

All five rogues turned to face me, the white haired one still tightly holding onto the grey wolf who was nearly unconscious. They each had evil grins plastered across their faces.

“Looky here, boys. Dinner.”

“Mmm, yes. Dessert too.”

“I’d like to have that ass.”

“Fuck, just the smell of her is getting me hard.”

Panic viced around my heart as four of them started sauntering towards me. A sick feeling pooling in my stomach.

And a burning.

Oh the burning...

Like the fire.

It was so painful, becoming increasingly unbearable. I frantically looked for the fire on my skin, seeing none. My heart rate increased as I started rubbing at my skin trying to diffuse the burning sensation.

They all stopped and stared at me.

The burning licked at my skin and my eyes finally caught the shimmering of the golden lace markings. Lighting up my skin from my fingertips down to my forearms like delicate tattoos, the golden markings glowed brightly under the Full Moon’s brilliant light. A pressure in my chest became frantic.

“What the hell!”

“Cursed, she’s cursed!”

The grey haired man quickly dropped the barely concious wolf as the others came forward, hell bent on trying to capture me. The grey haired man stared at me in wonder, a knowing look in his eyes. I didn’t get a chance to find out what it meant.

The next thing I knew, a burst of golden light shot from my hands straight into the rogues.

And for a moment, I saw it once more.

The light was an extension of me. Like crystal shards of my soul broken and fragmented right into the air before me, as if I were able to reach out and feel it like a fine sand. The energy of the light hummed around me with an incredible warmth that was almost too much to bear.

As the crystal like light hit the rogues, one by one it shone through their own eyes and instantly they flew backwards into the air. Landing with a loud thud, their bodies lay unmoving.

My heart was racing as I stood there. My eyes quickly looking back to my hands to see that the golden laced markings were fading back into my skin and my jaw dropped open.

The sound of paws scraping against the floor brought my attention back to the wolf who was trying to right himself, wincing with every movement. It was only then did I smell the silver in the air.

Could I be anymore observant?

“Come here big guy, I won’t hurt you.” The wolf brought his eyes to me and a shudder ran through his length. The golden light must have frightened him as he looked at me with wide eyes. He did not move away from me, but rather leaned his weight into me and I realized I would once again have to drag a body outside.

Seemed to be doing an awful lot of it today.

Gingerly wrapping my arms around the thickness of the wolf, careful to not squeeze him too tight from the silver that laced his veins, I started tugging him out of the barracks. Soon I was huffing and puffing as he was slightly heavier than Odette was. The remainder of my father’s guards had started pulling whatever survivors there were from the east wing of the castle and the fire had finally started to quench.

Apparently, whatever other rogues there had been that had not been taken down, had fled the premises.

Aside from the five I had effectively taken out myself, there was said to have been about ten more. They had come with a goal of not killing, but capturing.

The large midnight black wolf that stalked towards me, made me drop my head. A deep growl ripped through his bared teeth as I heard the cracking of bones.

He stood before the survivors not caring to cover himself. He looked absolutely feral.

“Where is Garridan?”

The small gathering of people remained silent.

“WHERE IS GARRIDAN?!” His deep timbre voiced boomed so loud it seemed to echo off the trees.

Another set of bones cracking and a deep groan brought every set of eyes to the large wolf that way behind me. But when I turned around there was a man in it’s place. Not a man, but Soren.

Relief flooded my entire body.

He grimaced in pain as his eyes held my father’s as he started to speak. ”Mue regele, they silvered me. They created a distraction further at the east Wall. They must have been further into castle grounds before the explosions even started as the next second they were on us. Several more at the north gate.”

“Yes,” my father snapped. “I was at the north gate tearing into them. Where is Garridan?” He repeated.

I began to grow uneasy as I saw the look of defeat cross Soren’s face.

“They... They took him, your Majesty. After they silvered me they silvered him as well and then took off with him. I don’t know how they knew it was him but they headed back west and took him...” His voice broke, whether from regret or pain was uncertain. Garridan was had been taken and the news shocked me, keeping me frozen in my place.

And then it hit me.

West...

Where Odette and Aurelia had been. Sadness overcame me and it must have been apparent on my face.

“What is your problem?” My father sneered at me.

I kept my eyes down as the tears I had held back for Aurelia finally started slipping from my eyes, trailing hotly down my dirty cheeks.

“Your Majesty, Aurelia...” My voice cracked on her name and I couldn’t finish. I simply turned on my heels and jerked my head back to the southern end of the castle near the kitchen. Obviously putting his stupidly huge ego aside, he trailed quickly after me. We rounded the corner to the door that led to the kitchen.

A pale and half unconcious Odette was leaning against the frame, body obscured by the bush on her left. The King rushed over to his now youngest daughter and craddled her head, trying to raise her to a concious state. She had obviously been drugged.

He asked her if she was alright and she managed a weak nod of her head. Her eyes flickered over to me. “Did you... find Aurelia?” She managed out, barely above a whisper.

The tears were streaming from my eyes and I bowed my head. Broken sobs erupted from Odette, and the King howled in sorrow into the dark night. He barked out for someone to find the Queen as he carefully picked up his daughter and carried her to the medical wing of the castle. It had thankfully sustained minor damages during the attack per the update the soldiers had given the King.

The east wing as well as the barracks had been completely engulfed in smoke damage and the walls had been burned to the ground. The main hall of the castle as well as the kitchen had only minor smoke damage. The remainder of the castle had cosmetic damage.

Like dead bodies littering the floor and blood staining the ground beneath them.

And as it turned out, the Queen had been taken as well. The King heartbroken over the death of one of his daughters, and the kidnapping of his wife and son, instantly flew into a blind rage. And even though I essentially saved Odette’s life, I soon found myself chained in his dungeon which had, unfortunately, not been damaged by the attack. My nearly healed gash along my hairline was reopened and blood was freely flowing down my face once again.

He was seething.

His canines were elongated and dripping with saliva but as he hit me over and over, I could feel the pain rivaling his anger, coming off of him in waves. The last hit made my eye swell shut.

“It should have been you.”

It was about the hundredth time since chaining me to this dungeon wall that he had repeated that phrase. And with every hit he had repeated it once more.

“It should have been YOU!”

“I... Know.” I croaked out through bloodied lips.

Swallowing hard I looked him in the eye and said words I never thought I would say in my entire life to him.

“I am... So sorry.”

I was wholly sincere when the words left my mouth and my head dropped between my shoulders as I prepared for his fist. But it didn’t come.

Lifting my eyes I saw the complete anguish in his. He took a deep breath and then left my cell, leaving me to fully break in peace.

Both mind and soul.

*******************

Soft footsteps approaching the cell made me lift my head that had been resting heavily against the concrete wall. My eyes, well eye, was red and puffy from all the crying I had done before I had drifted off into a restless sleep. Trying to move my body to shake off the stiffness, a figure came to a stop in front of my cell and stepped into the light.

Soren.

My heart rate sped up.

“Thank you.”

He looked at me, conflicting emotions clear on his face.

I didn’t say a word and just stared at the wall.

“Zenobia I...”

“Are you going to tell him?” My wounds had somewhat healed and I was thankful I could at least get the words out in a single sentence.

He looked at me amd took a step forward.

“Tell him what?”

I looked up at his face and stared him in the eyes. Confusion clouding my mind.

“About me, about what I did. What I can... do.” Saying the words out loud some how made what happened seem all the more real, like it wasn’t just some strange dream or a trick my mind was playing on me.

“I don’t even know what the hell it is you did,” he started. “Or what you are. So no, I’m not telling him anything.”

A sense of relief flooded through me and the tension in my body melted away, making me lean against the wall for support.

“How can you...?” He began but couldn’t seem to find the right words to continue. He walked forward to me and undid the chains that held my hands to the wall and slowly picked me up off the ground. I hissed in pain and cried out. He noticeably flinched but continued to carry me out of the cell. He was walking much slower than normal and his breathing was a bit labored, the silver still affecting him.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what it is or how it works, where it even comes from.” I told him honestly.

He remained silent as he carried me through the halls. Stopping shortly before a guest room, I looked at him in confusion. He noticed and then went on to clarify for me.

“It seems Odette has spoken of you saving her, insisting that you be rewarded for your deeds. She was quite adamant that you have a good place to rest your head as you recovered from the attack as well.”

Sure that we shared the same thoughts, we both knew it wasn’t the attack from the rogues that I needed to heal from.

Emotion choked me as it was one of the kindest gestures anyone, aside from Soren, had ever shone me. I had not expected to receive anything in return, my heart had been broken for her loss. She had needed help.

Anyone would have done the same.

He opened the door and my mouth dropped open.

The most magnificent bed I had ever seen stood in the opposite corner of the room with long billowing drapes. A plush mattress with several pillows lined the head of the bed. Over to the left was a small balcony. And to the right stood a wooden wardrobe that I assumed would remain nearly empty, as all I had were a few simple servants dresses.

Off in the back led to a private wash room.

“Surely this is the wrong room...” I was at a loss for words admiring the beauty of it all.

“Afraid not.” I looked at him to see he had a small smile on his face.

Setting me on my feet and making sure I was steady, he helped guide me to the bed.

“I don’t understand, he would never-”

“Again, Miss Odette was adamant about it.”

Gratitude swelled in my chest and I would have to thank her later, as soon as my wounds had healed enough to not raise any suspicions.

“Well I will be seeing myself out. There is much repair to be done, and with the Ilele commander coming in the morning, we have no time to waste.”

This caught my attention.

“The Ilele? But with the attack...”

“It is imperitive now more than ever that we have an alliance with the Ilele. This was an act of war and we need as many soldiers as we can acquire, especially with the amount of men we lost in the attack.”

“I understand.”

“Sir. Neculai and a few of his soldiers will be arriving here in the morning Please try to rest. I will send someone with a meal.” Soren gave me a another small smile and then made his way from my new room, closing the door quietly behind him.

Sir. Neculai.

What an interesting name.

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