Kirien watched the opera, but his mind was elsewhere. The woman on his arm was more interested in petting him than the blasted opera she’d demanded they see.
Without any preamble, he said, “I was thinking of attending Umbra Academy as a genius.”
The woman stopped. “What? Don’t you have to take a lineage test for that?”
She pulled away. “What about us?”
He shot her a withering glance. “Don’t act as if you’re pleasing me and hanging on my arm because you treasure me. We both know that’s a lie.”
It was true. Kirien was wealthy and his family name was influential, but his looks were something else to be desired. He looked rough, more like a barbarian than a nobleman’s son. No one would look at him, that much he knew, if he wasn’t a Grayl.
She pulled away, heavily offended. “You’d rather play with someone who hunts your own kind than hang out with pretty women all day?”
He rolled his eyes and stood. “For one, I thought we were above the others. Also, I’m bored, and you’re not the prettiest girl out there.”
“Coming from the ugliest empyrean on either side of the soil,” she spat. “There are plenty of others who vie for my attention, Kirien Grayl. Unlike you, I’m always wanted.”
He had left already, and she hadn’t noticed. When she saw he was gone, she gave an unladylike grunt of frustration and crossed her arms. He wasn’t fit to be her lover, anyway.
A young man panted, running through the woods as though his life depended on it. Because it did.
Something was chasing him. He wasn’t a fool to say it was someone, because it wasn’t a person, it was definitely a thing. A thing not of this world, that much he knew.
Every part of his body ached, and every step was as labored as his breathing. With a frustrated grunt he ducked behind a large tree. He attempted to quell his erratic breathing as he listened for footsteps.
He cursed. “I shouldn’t have come here,” he muttered. He groaned. “Mina, why didn’t I listen to you?”
Caught up in his thoughts, he didn’t notice the figure standing over him. “If you wish to escape, you better keep running.”
The young man jumped, and then sighed in relief when he realized the shape before him was human. It definitely wasn’t that thing after him. “Please help me.”
The hooded stranger narrowed glowing pale blue eyes at him. “My only job is to protect the academy and its students. You’re a junior reporter who poked his nose where it didn’t belong. What is after you has no weakness, only hunger.”
Color drained from the young man’s face. “C-can’t you just distract it for a moment? I’ll only need a moment.”
The young man heard something behind him, and he turned. When he turned back, the hooded man was gone. He heard growling, and his heart dropped as his insides churned. Without looking back, he kept running. Adrenaline helped, but too much sitting and not enough exercise in life was going to be the death of him.
He tripped over a thin fallen tree, tumbling headfirst down a hill before hitting a large tree. His head suffered for it, and he woozily touched the wounded area before looking up. He squinted, thinking the tree looked familiar.
“MC + LO ... oh ... this is our tree ... how did I get here ...?”
His vision blurred, and soon darkness overtook him.