Wicked Kingdom

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Chapter 2


Later that night, Grace goes outside to get her Dad to come in. He's been sitting there all day, not even moving an inch. Chase has been out a couple of times to try and coax him in, but to no avail, just ended up trailing back inside forlornly mumbling about Dad speaking gibberish.

Grace can't compute how her Dad has declined so quickly. Just yesterday he was laughing at TV shows without a care in the world. Now, it's like something is burdening him. Like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders and it's chipping away at him. Piece by piece.

"Dad?" Outside the cold is fierce and merciless. Grace feels it bite her skin, feels it naw the planes of her arms and chest. The cold doesn't forgive, nor does it care for a man wallowing in his own problems. "Dad, come inside. It's cold."

"Can't. I have to wait here," he answers shortly.

Grace steps further, her bare feet shivering on the floorboards. "What are you waiting for?"

He turns around now, his expression still boring a tangible sadness that settles in Grace's bones. "The wind." Dad smiles, but it's a defeated one.

"It's already windy," Grace says, "and pretty cold. You'll get goosebumps." She sits next to her Dad, tracing her finger along the goosebumps rigidly standing on his arms. "You're gonna get a cold, and then cry about it for days like men do."

Letting out a laugh, he pats his daughter's knee. "That's a fair point." His laughter softens along with his composure, Charles turns to his daughter. "You've got my eyes, you know."

Grace laughs. "So, you've told me since I could speak."

"But, you've got your mother's personality."

Usually, the talk of mothers was forbidden. It was a topic nobody broached in fear of upsetting the balance they had all eased. Neither Grace or Chase knew their mothers. They weren't ready to question their Dad about it, either. The loss of their mothers clearly impacted him in a way they could never comprehend. They didn't plan to jeopardise the progress he'd made in getting past that part of his life.

Grace has to ask, she wouldn't forgive herself if she didn't. "What was my Mom like?"

There's a long moment where Charles just heaves in painful breaths, looking at their surroundings. "She was a fire burning brightly in a storm. A star that shone brighter than any I ever saw." For the first time today, his eyes spark with some form of life. "Your mother was brave, so very brave. Always standing up for those she loved...just like you."

He means all the times Grace has hit someone for crapping on Chase. All the times she's defended him since they were kids.

"She was also strong." That wild look suddenly flares in his eyes like a flicked on switch, and Grace's moment of peace at hearing about her mother is tarnished. "So strong, and that's what you are. You're strong, Grace. I believe that. You can conquer anything."

"Dad." Grace can't ignore it anymore. "What's wrong with you today?"

Charles goes rigid, his head surveying the lawn with apprehension coiling his spine. "Go inside, Grace." His voice is steel as it reaches her ears.

"But, Dad—"

"I said go."

She sweeps herself up immediately, feeling a strong gust of wind hustle past, whipping her curls across her cheek. It's so startling that it makes all of the hairs on her arm stand tall, and her nerves begin to flail. Grace hurries inside, slamming the door behind her and not chancing a look at her father whose behaviour is beginning to frighten her.

Whatever was wrong, Grace doesn't want to watch it manifest.

*

Grace can't sleep, and it's because of a mixture of things. Firstly, she's disappointed. Today is her eighteenth birthday, yet nothing was as planned. She is worried about her Dad, who she assumes is still sitting out on that porch, letting the cold infect his bones. She doesn't know what's gotten into him, it's as if he's being possessed. Well, whatever is wrong with him, he needs it exorcised quick.

A shrieking wind howls outside, clawing at her windows and making them shudder. The sheer sound grates across Grace's nerves, and she settles deeper into her bed, letting herself be swallowed by the covers.

Maybe tomorrow will be better, she thinks to herself, gently turning over onto her stomach. Or maybe tomorrow Grace will shout at her Dad to get his act together, because it simply isn't good enough. Chase and her deserve to know what's troubling him if it's going to affect him this much. And Grace isn't going to let him worry Chase to death, that kid worries too much in the first place.

A soft sigh leaves her lips and Grace breathes in a tight breath, hoping to unravel the binding tension which has locked her today. However, as she inhales she smells something odd, something bittersweet and strong. It makes her nose tingle and her senses begin to unfurl with apprehension. Her nose wrinkles when the smell grows stronger, and it seems to manifest to all corners of her room.

Frustration swells in her stomach as the smell becomes persistent. Peeling open her eyes, Grace hauls herself up and squints her eyes, allowing them to travel the room. Her eyes scan bookshelves, an oakwood desk and scattered posters of bands she no longer adores. Her gaze stops its pursuit when it lands on her window.

It's open, a cold wind funnelling through along with silvery moonlight splashing a pool of light in a small circle near her bed. Beside the light is a cluster of dark shadows that writhe like souls reaching out, desperate for the light. It makes Grace's blood run cold, but she doesn't look away. She keeps her gaze firmly planted on the shadows that appear living.

"Who's there?" She feels ridiculous for asking, but she can't explain the way her nerves are skyrocketing. And the way her heart is jackhammering in her chest, like prey fighting for their last slivers of life.

Dread scolds her veins to ice when a sharp, hysteric laugh bursts from the shadows. It's loud, painfully so, it feels like it's reaching through Grace's chest and twisting her heart maliciously. The manic laughter continues, and then someone breaks from the convergence of shadows, lit aflame by the silvery moonlight. A man covered in brutal scars, skin glum and as drained as a ghost's complexion. He's shockingly tall, Grace has to raise her head to take him all in.

Fear drives itself deep in her chest, burrowing itself so that she can't breath. Grace just sits there, fists curling in her bedsheets, icy blue eyes wide and pouring with incredulity. She wants to scream but then that might alert the stranger to Chase.

The man steps forward and Grace sees charcoal black eyes, hauntingly desolate. But, there's a grin stirring on his face. And his ears — they are abnormally long, and as sharp as a knife's point. Moonlight slivers onto his face, making him unconditionally horrifying to look at.

"So, you are the human's daughter," the man muses, looking at Grace as if she's a mere object. "Quite disappointing actually."

Grace stops herself from snorting bitterly, her heart flailing rapidly in her chest. "I hope you'll understand why I'm not sorry to disappoint," she says with her voice wavering, fear overriding her sense. She slips out of bed, maintaining eye contact with the man. Meanwhile, being keenly aware of the iron dagger that is strewn across her dresser.

His eyebrows raise. "You're quite clever, for a human."

"Why are you calling me that?" Grace gulps when his eyes seem to slide down her frame. She's only wearing a tank top and shorts, and she feels extremely exposed. A cold chill spreads wherever he looks. Grace takes a step closer to her dresser.

"Because that is what you are."

"What does that make you?"

It is as if the man was waiting for that question. His eyebrows shoot up into his wiry black hair, lips upturning at the sides into a rattling grin. He pushes back the strands of hair so that his abnormal ears are more prominent. Grace stares at them, unable to stop herself. "I am a Faerie, and you my darling, are nothing but a mere way of fulfilling a debt owed to us by your father."

"My Dad?" Grace echoes, even more confused than before. She's cold all over now. Faeries. She doesn't want to believe it, but then she sees his ears, his clothes made from what looks like a bear-skin hunting jacket with a sword dangling at his belt, and it all draws back to what he said. "A debt? A fucking Faerie?"

"That is what I said, human, do not be stupid."

"Sometimes stupidity is the best thing," Grace says. Then, she proceeds to leap for the iron dagger behind her and lobs it at his chest with all of her might.

The dagger soars through the air, spiralling with the heart of an arrow as it embeds itself in the man's shoulder. He shouts with a stagger back, crying out in disbelief and reaches for his shoulder where blood begins to ooze.

Grace doesn't waste any time. She's sprinting to Chase's room beside hers and she bangs on the door, screaming for him to get up. Her fists begin to hurt with how harshly she's pummelling the door. But, adrenaline is pumping through her system, fuelling her forward. She can't stop. Grace can't even think. Her mind is whirring, spinning like a broken record player. She can't grasp one comprehensible thought; Faerie, debt, Dad, Chase, dagger. Faerie, debt, Dad, Chase.

Finally, Chase swings open the door, his face drooping with fatigue, curls in disheveled disarray on his head. "What's wrong, Grace—"

"We have to go."

"What? Why?"

She's pushing him down the stairs now. Urgency pushing her forward. "There's a man in my room and I think he's trying to take me," explains Grace, quickly flicking on the light that illuminates the kitchen.

Chase is fully awake now. "Are you serious?"

"Yes!" Grace bursts, her emotions all blending together into a current which churns in her stomach. She feels them all rolling around, making her feel sick. "And he said he's a...he's a..."

"He's what?" demands Chase. He's looking for the car keys, hands jaggedly searching through drawers, pushing away utensils. His hands are shaking, trembling with fear. "He's what, Grace?"

"He's a fucking Faerie."

"As in with wings?"

"As in with big ears, now let's go."

The two sprint for the door and Grace can't describe the relief she feels when she sees her Dad standing by the car. They'll all be safe now. They can go to the cops, they can escape.

"Dad!" Chase shouts, relief softening his fraught features. His pink lips settle into a relieved smile.

Grace is prepared to shout too. Prepared to shove her family in the car then drive away. However, she stops herself when she notices him talking to someone. Someone partially concealed by the shadows, but Grace easily catches sight of his ears.

"Is that..." Chase breathes, obviously catching notice of Dad's companion and his strange abnormality.

Grace nods. Apparently, her Dad knows something they don't. That thought leaves a bitter and angry taste in her mouth. She isn't sure she's going to like what she's going to hear. But, she needs to hear it.

Nevertheless, Grace runs forward, prepared to save her father if he's in trouble.

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