Wicked Kingdom

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Chapter 1


Happy Birthday!"

The sound of voices is unwelcome to Grace's ears. If possible, she buries herself deeper in her pillow, trying to drown herself in her slumber. She feels the shadow of sleep creep closer, covering all edges of her mind. Then she's drifting and drifting, answering to sleeps beckoning call...

A large weight suddenly plants itself on her bed, smothering her into her mattress so that it's impossible to breathe.

"Chase...get... off!" She swats blindly, her hands reaching wildly above her to try and shove her beyond annoying younger brother off.

Her hand hits its mark like a true weapon and Grace feels her brother recoil from her touch's scorn. The unbearable weight that burdened her is now lifted, and she sits up with a huff, barely able to catch her breath as if she's run a mile.

"That." She turns to Chase who is hiding in the corner of the room, a small smile curves his lips, brightening his pale face. "Was not funny."

"You should've seen your face—"

Grave holds up a hand. "We will never speak of it." Her brother tries to speak again but she silences him with a burning glare. "Ever."

After a few moments of silence, Grace's resolve fractures as she traces Chase's pale skin as white as freshly fallen snow, chestnut curls dipping into warm brown eyes that could melt anyone. Secretly, she adores her little brother. People often forget that they're related and it's definitely because of the difference in colour of skin; Grace is a light golden brown that compliments her ice blue eyes, while Chase is pale like frost and snow. They're half-siblings, neither of them knowing their mothers, but that just means they're even closer.

Grace pats the space on her bed. "Come on, little bro," she coos teasingly. Chase's face drops. "Come sit with your big sis on her birthday."

"I'm a year younger than you." Nevertheless, Chase wanders over to her bed and sits beside her, legs stretching further than hers. He's grown so much over the past year, Grace struggles to wrap her head around it.

"What did you get me?" She grins.

Chase lifts up a box from the ground. It's lavender and neatly wrapped which Grace snorts at. Neither Chase or their Dad could wrap, they were both incapable. Grace sometimes wonders how they don't accidentally wander off too far and end up falling off the face of the earth. It's a strong possibility.

Her finger skim the delicate wrapping paper, apprehension starting to nip at her insides. She feels her heart stutter a little as she tears off the paper and picks off the lid.

"Oh my god." Eyes wide, Grace can't dilute the shock spreading through her veins. She picks up the picture frame that is surrounded by a cushion of confetti. The frame is lavender (Grace's favourite colour) with dark purple flowers intricately circling it. Inside the picture is Grace, Chase and their father, Charles. It was last year on Chase's sixteenth birthday. "Chase, you...you did something cute for once," Grace whispers, breathing out a disbelieving laugh.

"You underestimate me," says Chase, whose slightly rounded cheeks are tinted pink.

"Thank you, little brother." Grace ruffles his hair and pulls him in around the neck for a tight hug. "Now, where's my cake?"

*

Downstairs, Grace finds her father sitting at the kitchen table and surprisingly, he's sharpening a large dagger. It's dull, not like clean steeled metal and it is carved with intricate drawings at the handle. He lifts it up at an angle, tracing the dangerously sharp edges which send a shiver to trail down Grace's spine. And he's muttering, speaking lowly in sharp whispers which Grace can barely catch. For some reason, she doesn't walk into the room straight away. She's a little unnerved, watching her Dad carry a dagger with such ease, muttering bitterly to himself as if it's normal.

Chase comes pounding down the steps but Grace juts out a hand to stop him. He throws her a look of confusion, but Grace focuses on her Dad. "Dad?" She breaks the pregnant silence.

At the sound of her voice, Charles Conway shoots his eyes to her. But, he isn't startled like Grace thought he would be. His pale white skin is fraught with tension, lips pursed, eyebrows narrowed in fierce concentration. The ocean blue colour of his eyes has darkened considerably. Usually they ripple with love or some kind of warm emotion. But, right now, Grace just sees a torrent of warring to sweep through them.

Grace steps forward, keeping Chase behind her. She's never had any reason to be scared of her Dad, but his eyes are unnerving. The look of prey when they know they're outsmarted, and waiting for the final attack. "Dad, why do you have that knife?" She tries to keep her voice steady and less accusatory. Grace has a tendency to be overbearing.

"This?" He lifts the dagger and it makes Grace's heart stop. It's much larger than she thought, but just as threatening. "It's for you, on your birthday."

Chase leans to Grace's ear. "Is he alright?" There isn't a certain answer for Grace to reply with so she doesn't.

"Why would I need it?" questions Grace, moving forward to her Dad, who hasn't lost that wild look in his eyes.

"It's made of iron." Charles tells her as if that is vital, as if Grace should heed this as something of great importance in her life. He adjusts it so that the blade is upside down and forces Grace's hand to clasp around it. "The handle is bound leather, but don't touch the blade, Grace. Ever. It's incredibly sharp."

That isn't difficult for Grace to believe. She moves it slightly and she swears she hears the blade slice through the air in a solid whoosh. Oddly, the handle is warm but Grace suspects it's because her Dad has been clinging onto this all night. She doesn't take time to digest that thought.

Preparing to question her Dad's weird behaviour, Grace looks up to see his face is saddened. Those torrenting eyes are focused on her, consuming her. Grace is suddenly stricken with worry and places the blade down on the table. "Dad, are you sure you're okay?"

"I love you, sweetie." Dad evades the question easily. His words seem distant almost, but resolute. As if he's coming to terms with saying them. As if they're final. "You're my little girl."

"Not so little anymore," Grace whispers, trying to cut through the tension winding through the room. Grace feels like she's being bound by it.

"I suppose not."

He leaves the room then. Looking nothing more than a lost ghost, wandering the earth looking for his purpose. Shoulders hunched and steps slow, Grace and her brother watch him slip outside and slump on the porch steps. In his hand he twists that old necklace he has had ever since they were children.

"That was weird." Grace releases a troubling breath that was caged in her chest.

Chase comes beside her, his face mauled with concern. "Is Dad okay?"

Winding her arm around his shoulder, Grace pulls him down beside her. She wants to anchor him, to support her little brother who is cautious of their Dad's odd behaviour. Grace is concerned too. Their Dad was always an optimistic man, prided on his ability to care for his children. He has never been one for violence, or any form of cruelty. But, now he's suddenly gifting his eighteen year old daughter a frightening blade?

"He's just tired, little brother." Grace decides that her Dad will come around soon. This is just a blip. "Now, should we help ourselves to some cake?"

The siblings dig in, trying to smother all the previous tensions so that it dissolves away. Little do they know, there are watchful eyes peering through the window, hiding amongst branches and blending in with the shadows. These eyes are flaring with impish joy at the chaos caused.

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