I awoke to the feeling of a cool breeze across my face. I moved slowly, my body stiff and sore as I moved to rub my eyes. I blinked a few times, trying to focus on my surroundings. The room was dark, the only source of light was from the moon that hung high in the sky. Its light broke through the sheer white curtains that were blowing softly as the breeze moved through them.
I moved my eyes around the room, the walls were plain, a large mirror hung on the far wall. To the right of the painting was an open door that looked to lead into a large closet. I moved my eyes from the room around me to look down at myself. My clothes were wrinkled, and the cloth around my neck was sprinkled with droplets of what looked like blood. I moved my shaking hand up to my shoulder and to the side of my neck. I pressed my hand against my skin and let out a small hiss of pain.
I slipped out of the bed and moved towards the mirror that was on the wall. I looked at myself in the mirror, trying to see if there was any mark in the lack of light. My skin looked raw and swollen against my neck. I covered my mark with my shirt and turned away, trying to fight back the tears.
How had everything gotten so messy? I thought as I moved towards the blowing curtains.
The sound of a rattling door nob has me stopping in my tracks. I turned towards the large door, the door that I had been too afraid to look behind. It slowly opened, and a small shadowed figure slipped through the crack.
“Oh thank god.” Her voice was in a whisper. The sound of her voice had me relaxing. “We need to go.” She rushed toward me. Her dress, slipped between her feet, causing her to stumble.
“Oh, for fuck sakes.” I watched as she angerly bent down and tore the bottom of her dress off. I heard some of the beads fall off their threads and land against the floor. I could hear the light tap as they bounced before they rolled into their new home.
“We need to get out of here.” Nix grabbed my shoulders. I looked at her with wide-eyes. “Valerian knows that the spell didn’t work. I knew it wouldn’t. I’m so, so, so sorry that I had to do that to you.” She pulled me into a tight hug as her voice cracked.
“It’s okay,” I whispered as I tried to push the sound of my own screams out of my head. “How do you suggest that we get out of here without being seen?”
Nix pulled me towards the closet that I had seen earlier. She grabbed two cloaks to cover ourselves.
“We’re two stories up,” She said as she slipped out the balcony. “We will climb down.” She pulled herself onto the ledge and moved towards the trellis that was secured to the wall.
“Will this hold us?” I hesitated before I moved onto the trellis myself.
“If it doesn’t, we’ll be fine.” She smiled. “They don’t call me the most powerful changeling for no reason.”
We moved down the trellis with ease. Nix grabbed my hand and made a run towards a small barn that sat at the edge of the property. I looked around, scared that we would be caught at any moment.
Nix pushed open the door, the warmth of the barn was the first thing that I noticed. My breath no longer came out in soft clouds. Horses lined the sides of the barn, happy to be inside in the warmth.
Nix moved down towards a man that stood off to the side, readying two horses.
“Are they ready?” She moved quickly, her voice coming out just as quick as her strides.
“Yes.” He turned towards her. He was wearing a dark jacket and a pair of jeans. His hair was light, it paired well with his gray eyes.
“Thank you.” She pulled him in for a hung. “Be safe.”
“You too.” He kissed the side of her head.
I awkwardly stood to the side, watching this exchange. A million questions ran through my brain as I tried to make sense of what was happening in front of me.
They brake apart, Nix moves towards one of the horses and hoists herself onto the saddle. The light-haired man turns towards me. He offers me a hand as I pull myself up onto the horse.
“Ready?” Nix turns to look at me as she pulls the hood of her cloak over her head. I follow suit.
“Take me home.” I almost don’t get all the words out of my mouth before my voice cracks. I grabbed the reins, taking a deep breath to settle my racing heart.
It felt like we had been rushing through the dense forest for hours before I saw the lights of Emerald City ahead. I let out a deep breath as we moved through the city gates. The streets were empty as we raced through them. We slowed our pace as we made our way up the path to the castle. Our horses let out a thankful breath, as they moved us up to the doors.
Nix jumped down from her horse first, the guards on duty moved towards us, their hands on the hilts of their swords.
“Mind your hand’s boys,” She said as she pulled her hood back from her face. “Wake the King and Queen immediately.”
The guards relaxed and nodded their heads. One turned back and quickly made his way into the castle. I watched after him before I slowly pulled myself down from the horse.
Every muscle in my body ached, my skin burned, and my head felt like it was going to explode. I pulled my hood down and began to stiffly move towards the doors. I felt my mind shut off, all I could think of was getting home. Home is where it’s safe, home is where I can’t be hurt.
At some point, I felt Nix next to me. She wrapped an arm around me and helped guide me through the castle doors. My body too exhausted to keep itself up, I leaned into her as we moved.
“Thank you,” I whispered, as we moved into the quiet entrance.
“Nix?” I heard Grace’s voice call from down the hall. “Where have you been?” She moved quickly towards us, Kallum quickly moving behind her.
“Ella,” She gasped at the sight of me. She rushed towards me and held my face in her hands. “What happened?” Her wide eyes looked towards Nix.
Nix looked at her before her eyes met Kallums. “You need to ready your men, we will be going to war.”
“What?” Grace shook her head. “What happened?”
“The Carnelian Kingdom kidnapped me from the ball the other night.” Nix began. “Valerian brought Ariella to his kingdom and forced me to cast the bond-breaking spell on her. He mistakenly thought that the bond was not completed.”
“He was so angry,” I said as I looked off to the side, my vision blurred as tears rimmed the bottom of my eyes. “He told me that if I had just been a good princess and given him the power that he deserved none of this would have happened.”
“They held both of us at knifepoint and forced me to perform a spell that caused her so much pain.” Nix stepped away from me as Grace pulled me into a hug.
“I’m so sorry.” She whispered into my ear.
“She will be in a lot of pain over the next few days, it will help if Rupert is here,” Nix said.
“Thank you for bringing her home.” Kallum finally spoke. “I will need you to follow me Nix. I need as many details as possible. An attack against my daughter is an attack against this Kingdom.”
Kallum moved towards Grace and I. He pulled us both into a tight hug. “I will make this right. I promise.” He kissed the side of Grace’s head before he placed a soft kiss to my temple.
“Come on, let’s get you to your room.” Grace wrapped her arm around me and helped me up the stairs.
Grace left me sitting on my bed before she moved into the bathroom. I heard her turn the taps on to run a bath.
“Take a bath, relax for a while.” She said. “I will get Rupert here as quickly as I can. I know he was here looking for you earlier.” She shook her head. “I should have known something was wrong when I saw how worried he was that you weren’t here.”
“He’s going to be so mad at me.” I sighed.
“No, he won’t. He’ll be happy that you’re safe.” She gave me a soft smile before she turned and slipped out the door.
I sat on the bed and let out a shaky breath. So much had happened, my mind was struggling to process it. I let out a deep sigh and moved into the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes were tired, dark circles lined the bottom of them. My red hair was a tangled mess against my neck. I pushed it out of the way and looked at my neck.
I pulled my shirt off my body and leaned in towards the mirror. My skin was red and inflamed. Small cuts lined the first few layers of skin, leaving small scabs over them. Dried blood surrounded the small cuts. I pulled my hair over my neck to hide the evidence. Hiding my neck didn’t hide it all. I could see the bruises that covered my skin in random places. It was as if the magic punched my body over and over again, leaving the bruises in its path.
I turned away from the mirror, stripped the rest of my clothes and moved into the hot water. I slowly lowered myself in, letting my body get used to the steaming water. Once I was in, I let myself slip lower. I sucked in a breath before I submerged myself beneath the surface of the water.
I felt two hands grab onto my arms, I snapped open my eyes and shot up from beneath the water. I let out a breath and looked at who had grabbed me.
“Jesus, Ariella.” He said. “You scared me.” He reached out and pushed my hair away from my face.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there,” I said. “I shouldn’t have gone with him, I knew something wasn’t right.” I shook my head.
“Shh,” He pressed his fingers over my lips. “It’s not your fault.” He said as he stepped back from the tub. He reached up and pulled his shirt over his head. He reached for the button on his jeans.
“Were you painting?” I asked him as he removed his ripped, paint-stained jeans.
“I was worried about you. I couldn’t sleep.” He stood before me completely nude. “Move up.” He said as he climbed into the large tub with me.
I felt his arm wrap around me. He pulled me back against him, I relaxed into his hold. He reached out and grabbed the cloth on the side of the tub. He dunked it into the water before he added soap to it.
He reached out to run the cloth over my arm, he pulled my arm from the water and ran the cloth over my skin. He moved slower over the dark bruises that covered my skin.
“What did he do to you?” I felt his nose at the side of my neck, he placed a soft kiss against my skin.
“We can talk later.” I closed my eyes enjoying the feeling of his warmth against me. “Just hold me,” I whispered.