First off, who the hell agrees to get up at four in the morning to fucking train! What was I thinking?! And why the hell was I still so excited about it?!
Roman was an asshole, no doubt about it. But then why did he take the time to bring me my jacket when I left it behind?
Did he have some sort of ulterior motive? I thought maybe he wanted to know about my flashback, but he didn't press that hard at all.
I didn't know what to think. These stupid heirs were already becoming way too much trouble. I needed to get my head in the game and lay low until Elle and I could get out of this mess.
By the time I stripped and fumbled with the damn nozzles enough to get the shower water warm, my thoughts had taken a darker turn.
I hadn't had a flashback like that in a little over a year, and it was not good that I had one today. I needed to get myself under control before these heirs found any more reason to keep me here.
Or worse, kill me.
If what my father said throughout my childhood had any merit, then whatever I am is the reason my mom died, and no one can know that. Ever.
Elle heard a lot of it before we both ran away, and she was always the only thing that kept me going.
When my dad first told me I killed my mom, I lost it. Elle found me that night in my room as I was about to give up completely. I had the knife in my hand and everything. I had given up.
Mom was the light in our life. She was always caring and sweet, but never a pushover. She taught us to be proud of who we were, even if we were different, and she never made us feel unworthy or embarrassed, even when we didn't develop magic like the other kids.
It wasn't until after she died that our magic came out, and really it wasn't anything special. In hindsight, it made it easier for us to hide it and pretend we were nons when we left, but when I was younger, all I wanted was to have enough magic to make Mom proud.
But even though she died thinking we were nons, she never made us feel less because of it. She was light and love and happiness and all the good things in the world, so when my Dad said I was the reason she was dead, I never could forgive myself.
I still can't really wash myself of the guilt, but I've come a long way, thanks to Elle. She took the knife right out of my hand and spent all night comforting me and telling me it wasn't my fault.
Really, she had a point. I didn't outright kill my mom. But I was only nine at the time, and I couldn't get past the fact that I might have been the reason she died.
It took a long time for me to come back to myself. For years I took my father's beatings, thinking I deserved it for the role I had in Mom's death.
But slowly, Elle helped stoke the fire in me back to life, and I realized that wasn't who I was.
I still took the beatings to keep Elle out of the line of fire, but I began to hate my father for them. How could he treat his child like that just because of the death of her mother? When she was nine!
What could I have done that would have made it any better? I couldn't change the way I was born, so there was no reason for him to take her death out on me.
I hated him for it, yes, but I was also afraid of him, and I hated myself for that. I hated that I couldn't stand up to him, no matter what he did to me. I hated that I ran.
I should've just killed the fucker. I should've watched as the life left his eyes before I took Elle away forever. The world would be a better place without him.
But it was too late now. I couldn't change the past, and I would never know if I actually had the strength to do it. With the way he still haunted me, I didn't know if I actually would.
I let the hot water wash away the last remnants of my flashback, taking way longer than I should have to piece myself back together.
When I finally felt solid enough to face the world again, I turned the spray off and grabbed a towel to wrap around myself.
Still lost in thought, I didn't even notice the two figures laying on my bed as I walked out of the bathroom.
I yelped in surprise at the voice, reaching over to the desk beside me to grab a throwing knife before I even had time to process who it was.
"Oh yeah, probably not the best idea to surprise her, Hannah. She's got killer reflexes," Elle informed Hannah, giggling when she looked over from their spot on my bed to take in my expression.
"Not funny Elle, and I'm sorry, Hannah. Growing up on the streets causes you to be a little jumpy," I apologized.
As I took in the room, I noticed Hannah had already brought dinner for us, and I was very eager to dig in. Training always made me hungry, and I was glad Hannah had thought to bring food.
"That's ok! I'll just remember that next time," she responded more than a little hesitantly.
After setting the knife back down on my desk, I turned back to my closet to look at what Hannah hung up for me. It only took a quick look to see that she nailed my style perfectly.
I grabbed an oversized t-shirt and a pair of shorts to throw on since it was getting kind of late and, after everything that went down, I was really just in the mood to be comfy.
When I was done getting dressed, I made my way back into the bathroom to hang my towel and grab a brush, carrying it back to the bed to begin untangling my long, dirty-blonde hair.
I didn't even get halfway through the knots before I heard Elle's voice to my right.
"Alright, spill, girl. I let you have your time to yourself but now I need to know what's got your panties in a wad."
Damn her for being so intuitive.
"What makes you think something's bothering me?" I ask, hoping to avoid the conversation.
"Ad, I've known you my entire life. And I'm not dumb. Something has been on your mind since the moment you walked out of the bathroom. So, spill. Did something happen while you were at the gym?"
She moved behind me to grab my hairbrush and finish brushing my hair out as I began to fill her in on what happened with Roman during the training session while snacking on the food Hannah had brought in.
I left out the flashback, though, and just told her that Roman brought my jacket out as I left the gym. No need to fill Hannah in on all our family drama. I already saw her eying my runes, and there's no reason to give her any more info into my personal life.
"Hold up. Roman, the freaking asshole bodybuilder dude? He asked you to train with him?"
Confused as to why Elle looked so surprised, I answered with a short "yes," waiting to see where she was going with her line of questions.
"And you said yes?"
"Um, yeah? Why's that so unusual?"
She peeked over at Hannah before continuing, losing the bewildered expression and adopting a more nonchalant one.
"No reason, you just don't usually like to train with many people. You're kind of specific. He must have caught your eye. You don't train with someone you don't see yourself learning anything from. That's all."
She said it very innocently, but I knew what she was saying underneath it all.
Why the hell would you be training with one of the guys we're supposed to be avoiding? You can't start to get closer to these guys. Keep your head down and stay out of trouble.
I give her a look back, responding a little too curtly.
"I don't see why it's such a big deal. I know what I'm doing but I might be able to learn a few things from him that would help me down the road."
From the look of understanding in her eye, I can tell she got my real meaning.
If I train with him, maybe I can learn something to help us get out of here.
"Knowing you, Ad, you might be able to teach him a few things," she responded. It sounded like a compliment, but I could tell it was a warning.
Just be careful. Don't let him learn about who you are and what you can do.
Before I had a chance to respond, Hannah apparently got tired of being the third wheel and decided to chip in.
"Are you kidding? Roman is the best fighter in Lockhelm! I mean, he trains all the incoming troops and can beat anyone in the guard without even breaking a sweat. I swear that guy spends more time in the gym than is healthy. But, oh man, has he got the muscles to show for it. If he offered to train you Addie, you should be honored!"
She looked so awestruck by the idea of training with Roman that I couldn't hold back a chuckle.
"I'm sorry, Hannah. I just can't imagine you actually getting in workout clothes, going to a gym, and training to fight."
At this, Elle started to giggle, too, and Hannah looked absolutely horrified.
"Me? Fighting? No way! I'll stay right here and do my maidly duties and let the men do the fighting, thank you very much! But, honestly Addie, you'd have to be a nitwit to not realize what a cool opportunity this is! Really, you must not know anything about the heirs at all!"
Seeing the opportunity for what it is, I jumped on the chance to learn more about the heirs from someone inside the castle.
"No, actually, you're right! We both grew up in a really small village on the streets. We had no chance to learn about the heirs!"
My ploy to bring out Hannah's inner gossip worked, and she responded instantly.
"Oh my gosh, are you serious? Well, I was only kidding but now that I know you don't know anything about them, it all makes more sense! You'll love them when you get to know them! I just know you will!"
She looked so happy at the aspect of me getting to know them that I just couldn't shoot her down. Instead, I tried to go straight into another question.
"But, honestly, I don't know anything about them at all. How will we have anything to talk about if I don't know my way around the castle politics and how I am supposed to talk to them and what I am supposed to talk to them about! It's all a little intimidating."
I tried to play the dumb blonde act, but by Elle's exasperated expression, I guessed I wasn't doing a very good job.
Hannah didn't seem to notice my lackluster acting, however, and fell for it right away. I almost felt bad for lying, but I knew we needed some information and this was the best way to get it.
"Well, as you know there are four heirs. Callum, Lachlan, Roman, and Declan. Callum is the oldest, and his dad, Claude Reeves, is head of the council."
"Wait, what about his mom?" Elle jumped in to ask before I even got the chance.
"She died quite a few years ago. No one really knows what happened. She became deathly ill and nothing could save her. It's really a shame. She was such a sweet woman. Things haven't been the same since she died."
"What do you mean by that?" I asked, hoping to dig a little deeper.
"Well, Callum's dad has gone way downhill. He's extremely temperamental, and the entire Council has begun to fear him practically. I don't know what goes on in the meetings, but all of the rumors I've heard are that he's basically running things with an iron fist."
"What about the other council members? Do they not get a say?" I didn't even have to act this time sine my curiosity was very real. I had to know what went on around here if I had any hope of maneuvering our way out.
"Well, I'm sure they get some say, but I think the majority is run by Councilman Reeves."
"What is he?" Elle asked.
"A mage. An elemental one, just like Callum. Only from what I've heard, Callum's magic is already surpassing his father's, and people are beginning to think that maybe Callum can take over sooner rather than later. His father is trying to hold it back for as long as possible, but I think Callum may be ready pretty soon. But, who knows. I'm just a maid, right?" She chuckled, and I could see her brain begin to wander off track, so I tried to steer her back on track.
"What about the other heirs?"
"So, Lachlan is the second oldest, and he's definitely the mischievous one of the four. He's always spying or getting into trouble, and is a huge player. Honestly, I think half the castle has slept with him. Really, though it makes sense since he's a shifter. They tend to be pretty open about their desires if you know what I mean.
"His mom and dad, Teresa and Hale Walker, are also on the council, although they aren't as influential as Councilman Reeves. They seem to be a lot more laid back than the other members, and honestly, they don't seem to be a big influence on Lachlan at all. Ever since they got him back they seem to let him do whatever he wants."
"What do you mean since they got him back?" I asked quickly.
"You seriously didn't hear? Wow, you really are behind. Well, when Lachlan was younger, he was out playing with the other heirs in the gardens of the castle. They were playing hide and seek and when they went to find him, they never could. He just disappeared. They looked for about a year before the council just gave up. They assumed him dead.
"But the other heirs never gave up. They had made a habit of sneaking out of the castle, and on one of their trips, they found a mangled body near the woods at the border of Lockhelm. When they went up to it, Callum was the first one to realize who it was. It was Lachlan, but he was so bloodied and beaten that he was barely recognizable. They rushed him back to the hospital, and if it wasn't for Declan's quick work on a strong healing potion and the hard work of the nurses and doctors in the castle, he wouldn't have made it.
Best guess is that they beat him until they thought he was dead, but his animals were able to save him. By staying deep within him, they were able to give him just enough life force to keep him alive without being detected. Who knows what would have happened otherwise." She shuddered thinking about it.
"Did they ever find out what happened to him?" I asked hesitantly.
"Not really. Everyone knows it was bad, but he refuses to talk to anyone about it but the other heirs, and even they don't know the full story."
"Wow. That's terrible. I can't imagine going through something like that. How long was it before they found him?" Elle asked.
"Three years. He was gone for three years before the boys found him. He's never really been the same since."
"Well, shit. That's terrible." I honestly did feel for him. I knew what it was like to have a dark past, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
"Yeah, but at least he has the other heirs. They've become like brothers. They're practically inseparable. Declan is the third oldest, and he is an absolute bookworm. I mean I think he spends ninety percent of his day reading. He's totally going to be the scholar out of them when they take over. His parents, Willa and Reid Hoffman, kind of have the same personality. Well, Ried does, at least. Willa is more of a behind the scenes woman. She kind of just stands of to the side and doesn't say much, but Reid is a definite scholar. He knows more than all of the other council members combined, and I know Councilman Reeves comes to him a lot for information.
And then there's Roman. He's the youngest of the group but definitely makes up for it with his fighting prowess. Honestly, I don't even think he wants anything to do with the council, but he deals with the politics for the sake of the other heirs and his parents. His mom died giving birth to him, but his father, Marx Greenwood, is still on the council and pretty much deals with the military dealings and battle strategy. He's pretty much Councilman Reeves's right-hand man and is a lot like him personality-wise. Roman, on the other hand, is much more hands-on, and would rather fight than strategize. That's why he's in charge of training the guards. By the time he was 16, he could fight better than all of them, including the top generals."
"Wow. That's a lot of info. I think my brain might need a minute." Elle stated, lying back in the bed to look up at the ceiling.
"Oh my gosh, you're right! It's way too late, and you have to be up for training tomorrow! You better get some sleep! I'll leave you girls alone and see you in the morning!" Hannah got up and enthusiastically waved as she made her way to the door.
"Thanks for talking to us, Hannah! It helps a lot to know more about the people in the castle. I'm glad we have you as a friend!" Elle said politely as Hannah left.
As Hannah shut the door, Elle looked over to me.
"Just be careful tomorrow. I know you enjoy fighting, but don't let him see what you can do with your runes. Fight like a non for once, please. For my sake and your own."
"Elle, I will. I know what I'm doing, and I'll make sure not to get us in trouble."
"Alright, I trust you," She said, getting up off the bed to head for her room. "Maybe tomorrow I can do some snooping around the castle to see for any exit points."
"You be careful too. I know you're sneaky, but don't be cocky. I love you too much for you to get caught. You know I couldn't leave you behind." I told her. I knew I couldn't stop her since she was pretty much as stubborn as I was, so I just had to hope she would stay safe.
"I will, I promise. Love you, Addie."
"Love you too, Elle."
With that, she left the room and I was left to my own thoughts.
The more I learned about the Council and the heirs, the more I realized how difficult of a situation we had landed ourselves in. I just had to hope we could work together to dig ourselves out in time.
If not, things were going to get very dangerous, very quickly.