‘You’re joking right?’
Those were the last words she’d heard her best friend say to her, before she’d closed the door to the tiny little house she’d lived in all her life. Before she made her way to the carriage that awaited her.
The horror and pain that had been plastered all over Lana’s face, the silence that had followed.
They had always been friends, identical in almost every way. Their long blonde hair, tied back from their faces, their green eyes and tanned ivory skin. Same height, not too big, not too small.
When you’re thirteen, with your birthday so close and you’re running a muck through the town square, you just didn’t care what you looked like. Neither did anyone else, until that day.
No, it hadn’t been a joke. There had been no laughing, no giggling, just sadness, and anger.
Roe hadn’t wanted to leave that day, or any day that followed. She’d wanted to stay in ‘that’ town, live in ‘that’ tiny house, and play with ‘her’ friends, all day long, that wasn’t what happened.
And why? Because of her Mother, that’s why!
Roe had been planning her birthday party. The day her mother returned home from visiting family, bearing the horrible news that would change her life forever. There would be no party, not in their little house, anyway. Her mother had met someone.
‘I believe you will love it there.’ Her mother had told her, ‘We will be very happy!’
Correction, her mother had been happy, but Roe was not. Standing in her bedroom by an open window, surrounded by baubles and fancy gems, enough to fill the sea. She longed for nothing more than to escape this fantasy that she’d been pulled into, to return to the reality she missed so dearly. It seemed like only yesterday, and yet, Roe had watched years of her life slip away before her very eyes. Years spent alone in this prison of a palace.
What she wouldn’t give, to be back in that meadow, in her own home.
“Roselle?” The voice rang out through the hallways. “Roselle, where are you?” It came again, and Roe felt the shudders take over.
The sound of her Mother’s voice had grown most deafening these days. Her cheeriness was enough to make Roe gag. Yet she was the woman who had birthed her, raised her, she’d taken care of her.
‘I am only giving you what you deserve!’
Roe sighed, as she was remembering their last big fight.
“For the love of.” The woman shouted. “Roselle, where have you gotten to now?” The woman called for her again, and with a quick peek behind her, Roe could see the red velvet of her dress, and the dark brown locks that fell in cascading waves around her shoulders.
They looked nothing alike, and apparently lived worlds apart, in the same bloody palace.
“I’m here, Mother!” She sighed, pulling herself away from the open window.
If her mother knew anything about her, anything at all, she would have known where Roe had been hiding. It’s where she had been coming to stand and watch the world pass her by, for the last seven years.
But then, one would actually have to ‘listen’ to their daughter. Actually pay attention to her, maybe even value one or two of her opinions?
“I have been searching for you, absolutely everywhere!” The woman let out as she hurried through the bedroom door. “And here I find you, again, at that silly window.”
“Perhaps next time, Mother, this silly window, will be where you start your search.” Roe sighed, taking one last look at the view beneath her.
Okay, that had sounded so, mean. She hadn’t meant for it to come out like that, but she’d learned the hard way, that things don’t always go as planned.
“Perhaps! But then next time, you will be at the table for midday meal, on time, then I won’t have to search for you!” Her mother replied, glaring down at her.
“I wasn’t hungry!”
“Nonetheless, it is polite to join the family for the midday meal. It is tradition.”
“No, it’s not!” Roe snapped back.
It had never been tradition, ever. It might have become her mother’s way of doing things, but Roe wasn’t as willing to give up her freedom.
“Your father was waiting for you, Roselle.”
“He, is not my father!” Roe cut her off, and received a quick slap across her cheek.
“He is the King, and he is my husband.” Her mother was all frustrated. Shaking her head as she shook her fist. “Which makes him, your father!”
Well wasn’t that the big kicker! He was the King, her mother was his Queen, and Roe, well, she had gone from leggings and a simple shirt, to gowns that hung down to the floor, tight and revealing in satin and lace. Silk, furs, not to mention those horrid things they called shoes.
How was one supposed to run and play in them? They weren’t; but then, a Princess was expected to prance around like some show pony. Head held high and chest pushed forward. This wasn’t life, it was the makings of some freak show, and Roe wanted nothing to do with it.
“Why must you make it so hard?” Her mother sighed as she threw up her hands, “He has gone out of his way to welcome you to his home.”
“This, isn’t a home, Mother, it’s a monastery! I don’t feel welcomed in a place I am forbidden to explore, but rather secluded from the outside world.”
“You have your horse!” Her mother smiled at her, as if that was all she would need. “And you have your rides through the forest!”
“I have no friends, no life, no.... Ugh!” She grumbled, “I think I may take one of those rides, now, if you don’t mind!”
It was more of a statement, than a request, and Roe made for her closet, and her riding cloak.
“You have your sisters!”
Yes! She did!
Seven, ten, and twelve, and all of them looked like her mother with their curly, dark brown hair, and bright honeyed eyes. One of them would reign supreme over the lands. What did they need Roselle for?
Besides, they were far too young and tainted by royal life to have tasted the freedom of the hills or running barefoot through the sands. None of them had felt the thrill of diving, fully clothed, into the chilly lake as the sun rose over the mountains. They had never spent all night looking up at the stars, or laying back in a field to watch the clouds take form, surrounded by nothing but the wide-open spaces.
Had they giggled as they hid behind the baker’s shop? Snacking on the goodies his wife offered as a treat? No, for their nanny would never allow such a thing. They’d been born within the palace, raised and tutored by the very best, under watchful eyes. They had no sense of adventure, no time for play. They were, like her mother.
“You should have been there!” Her mother snapped at her, “He had something of great importance to discuss with you!” She hung her head and clasped her hands together. “He was sorely disappointed when you failed to arrive!”
“Of great importance, like, another suitor, perhaps?” Roe sighed, rolling her eyes.
“Perhaps!” Her mother smiled back at her, “I hear he is oh so handsome!”
“Charming!” Roe replied as gracefully as she could, while trying not to gag.
The thought of marriage had crossed her mind sure, but only in planning ways to avoid it.
“You will join us for the evening meal, Roselle!” Her mother eyed her up and down. “Do not be late, or I shall send the palace guard to look for you!” She warned before she turned towards the door.
“Does it even matter to you, that I do not want to be married?” She’d tried everything else. Maybe just out right explaining it to the woman would be enough.
“Now why would you say such a thing?” The Queen looked so distressed, draped in red and gold. How could Roe have thought for even a second, that she’d understand?
“Maybe I have found someone else? Someone, whom I have chosen, myself?” Roe let out. Her mother had turned back to her so fast. Her hand holding Roe’s chin so tight as the honey colored eyes turned dark as she glared at her.
“It is not wise to jest about such things, Roselle, not within these walls!” Came another warning that sent shivers down Roe’s spine. “You are a Princess, any man who so much as touches you in anyway.” She paused a moment, then turned away again, taking a few steps before stopping. “It is for your own good, Roselle!” She finished walking away.
“I can take care of myself!” Roe muttered. Tearing her cloak from the hook where it hung.
She needed to get out of here, if only for a short while. She had to think, but in the city of Seldan, within the palace walls, even thinking was dangerous.
It had been two days, since she and her Demon had infiltrated the city. So far there had been no sign of Malice and the others. They had settled in to small pub blending in with the locals in an attempt to get a feel of the city. People were not happy with the way things were going. It seemed as if many of them had planned to leave Seldan. That was until word of the hunt had reached their ears.
And what a wondrous hunt it would be. For this year they would hunt something even greater than the northern Snow-Beast. Even mightier than all the creatures in the sea. This time they hunted Dragons. Sure, there were those who’d refused to believe that the winged monsters even existed. Their doubts were soon quashed as the drink continued to pour and the stories carried on.
“They’re idiots!” She told Nyx, as they sat at the same table, drinking from the same wooden cups. Watching as the same old fools pretended to wrestle one another.
Pitiful was the word for them. Though she had to give the bastards credit, the people of Seldan had had no idea what was upon them. Nor the treachery that accompanied those who governed them. They had no wars to fight in, no battles to boast about. Just their big old bellies, with minds full of memories. It was sad, even sadder, knowing that the males before her had been replaced by something much more vile than they thought.
Here sat the old, the used and abused, replaced by pups of a different sort. If they truly knew what sat upon the throne, what really patrolled the streets they would cower in terror.
“Any word from Arden?” Nyx replied with a sigh.
“He has agreed to lay low, in the North.”
“He seemed, aggravated!” The Demon yawned as he made to rise from his chair.
Mia thought about it for a minute. Yeah she’d be pissed too if she’d been lied to.
“He’s probably just worried!”
“Me and him both!” Nyx replied, wiping the sleep from his eyes, “I’m going upstairs!”
“I’ll be with you in a bit!” She smiled back at him, and then shook her head. “I promise, I won’t leave without you!”
“Good!” He nodded back at her, and made for the stairs.
No, Mia wasn’t going anywhere, at least, not yet. She was in Seldan, finally. She was going to free Roselle, finally. She’d get to see Red. For real this time. There was no way she was fucking this up, and besides she still had that vial, so if things did turn to chaos she had something to help her through it.
Lyla took a long pull of her ale as she looked around the table at the others.
“It’s nice to see you all again. Looks like you found who you were looking for. My job finished up early so I kept my snout to the ground to see if I could find her. That’s when I smelled another dragon. There were a bunch of us going through the portal, so I figured maybe it was a friend. That’s when I ran into you.” She rubbed the stein between her hands.
“I don’t know where I am. I did a little digging and your Earth is vastly different from mine. Hell, even Kae’lin doesn’t exist.”
“I thought you said you came from Karahk,” Jack spoke up.
“Karahk is dragon-speak. The more common tongue calls it Kae’lin. We’ve got a lot of similar species on our world but Vampires? Insid? Shadows? Never heard of them. Hell, your Atlantis got blown up by a Valkyrie for Goddess’ Sake! I figure I could use all the help I can get. I appreciate you letting me stick around but I kind of want to know just who I’m getting involved with you know?” She smirked.
“Just remember, the scales and claws you saw aren’t for show. There’s a killer under this woman.”
Jack smiled slightly when she mentioned she was a killer.
“Lassie, I’m surrounded by killer women, did ya naught see who I came with?” Jack chuckled as he to a drink.
“If Bryson does answer Mal's questions his head maybe gracing a Valkyrie lance in the middle of his own arena.”
Jack was enjoying himself in spite of the surroundings. She didn’t feel like an enemy though she could be a scout.
“One small piece of advice lassie. I’d be real careful about mentioning anything about slaves or slave trading to Mal. Or to any of the other Valkyries, to them it’s a crime, punishable by death.”
Jack smiled at Lyla with that slow easy but earnest smile.
“She’s been a slave twice in her very long lifetime. Once long ago and once, not so long ago. It’s her quest to have her vengeance for the last time that brings us here.
Lyla eyes turned to where the other two females had gone off to. She could sense the woman called herself Malice was. Even now she felt like a storm of magical power.
“How long has she been seeking this vengeance Jack? Are you her servant?”
Jack had to laugh out loud before he ordered them another ale.
“Servant? No Lyla I’m more of her companion. I guard her back and tell her when she’s chosen badly. Most of the time I keep my mouth closed and duck a lot.”
Lyla could see in Jack’s memories that this enslavement was something the old soldier blamed himself for. When she put her hand on his he looked up meeting her eyes.
“Oh yes about the killer woman part, Mal has claws too.Those scales of yours may not be enough protection. So do us both a favor, do not say anything about slaves and the Earth in the same sentence. As for her vengeance its been going on for at least fifteen thousand earth years and counting. Welcome to the party. May fortune favor our swords as the Valkyrie say.”
Lyla looked at Jack. “Fortune only works for fools. If you can’t trust your blade or the soldier next to you, you’re dead. Sure, I’m pretty good with a blade but I prefer my claws for close-up fun. If it comes to weapons, I usually use a longbow. I can hit the wings off a fly at fifty paces.” She grew quiet. “It’s a damn shame I lost it. That bow was special.” She took a long drink. “Don’t bother asking. It’s personal.”
The long strands of her blonde hair whipped past her face as she took off through the forest. The air was warm and the breeze added a fresh nip of spring as she tore across the forest floor. So peaceful and serene, yet the sting of her mother’s words still carried with her.
It wasn’t until she came to the cliffs that she hauled back on the reigns and brought the beautiful white stallion to a halt. Trying to decided whether to continue on up through the rocky trails, or dismount and sit in her usual spot by the ledge. It was a question she faced every time she came up here, to sit and admire the view, to wait for life to just roll on by.
Or, take a chance on the unknown, to make the journey through the rugged canyons that led between all those snow-covered peaks.
Up until now, the view had always won out, but she was tiring of the same old story. Gone were the days of climbing trees. Diving into the chilling waters of the river as it poured itself into the great sea. Gone were the long walks she had taken along the beach with her friend. The sleepless nights they had spent wishing on stars for adventure and love. Gone were the dreams of being swept off their feet by those willing to traverse the world for them.
Fantasies and fairy tales. Moments that for Roselle, would never come again. She’d never wanted the position, she was a Princess now, and it was nothing like she’d imagined. It was horrible, Roe wished nothing more, than for it to end. She didn’t want to be a Princess. She didn’t want to live in that bloody palace.
Climbing down from her horse, she found herself next to that ledge. Looking out over all that her ‘King’ had acquired. A vast valley, filled with farms and fields, surrounded on all sides by the mountains, and right in the center, his glorious palace. Standing tall and strong, Seldan was the biggest city she had ever seen. The Bavmorin Palace was massive even more so, than the ruins of old.
She’d heard about them, even ventured there once, to pay tribute to the hall of Kings. Some hall it had been, broken and crumbling, and haunted. On the southern shores it lay beyond the mountain pass, the stories that surrounded the area and its castle, were creepy at best.
“Dammit!” Roselle let out, as she took in the small houses that dotted the landscape before her. She could see the river winding through it all, and that was it. No lakes, no ponds, no sand covered beaches. Save for the western shores, but they were a good six days away.
This place, this home she had been told was hers. It was beautiful and yet, so not her home. At least back in the meadows, she would have been a normal girl. Growing up with normal friends, found a normal husband.
‘You are a princess, and any man who so much as touches you.’ Again, those words tormented her.
Yes, yes! She was a Princess, one who felt like a prisoner. Gowns and galas, diamonds galore, along with a pretty little tiara that never fit right. She was a Princess alright, a Princess in distress.
As for any man ever touching her, she was almost twenty and three, and she had never..
Well, she had witnessed the act. She’d watched the bodies rocking against one another, and had heard the moans, watched the man’s head fall back as he thrust himself between the woman’s thighs, her whimpers and moans, the way they shuddered in each other’s arms.
She had seen it play out in soft, sensual motions, two bodies caressing one another, loving one another; and she had bore witness to the more sinful side, one filled with the arts of erotic seduction. Rough and raw, like two animals in heat. She wasn’t sure which she would prefer. The thought of mixing and mingling in any way with a man, had been forbidden.
But she had seen it, heard it, and at times felt it. Whether it was a man and a woman, two women, two men, or just a simple serving girl on her break, hidden away from the prying eyes of her masters. Back against the wall and legs spread wide open, a solo encounter filled with pleasure, as her own fingers danced and her lips moaned.
Roe had even tried mimicking the girl’s motions. Left alone in the tub with her wicked thoughts, she had experienced what it was like to feel that pleasure herself. It was so breathtaking, she could only imagine what it would have felt like to feel the heat of another against her skin, to be held helpless as the weight of his body bore down on hers.
‘Any man, who so much as touches you.’
It was true, for it was the law of the land. Any man who so much as lay a finger on her so called, ‘Royal’ skin, would pay a heavy price. For he would pay for that moment with his life. The ‘Royals’ were all that mattered, their words, the law. Please! Royalty was nothing more than politics and social standings. No one really cared, no one normal that is.
She wasn’t even a true royal! The king’s blood didn’t flow through her veins, he was not her father. Her father, was gone. Whether he had died, or he had just up and left, who knew? Perhaps it had been her mother? The woman’s story changed all the time. Nonetheless Roe, was not a royal. The rules shouldn’t have applied to her at all, but they did.
Roselle shook her head as she stood by the ledge, remembering a time, not so long ago, where she had witnessed that specific law being carried out.
One poor old fool had fallen upon her mother’s arm, it had all happened so quickly, Roe had been so scared. She remembered the look in the poor man’s eyes, as he was dragged off through the streets. She had never seen, nor heard of the man again. Not that she had been given free reign to actually look into the matter.
‘A Princess does not wander through the streets with the commoners, for any reason, my dear!’ The King had told her, before brushing the matter off like it had been nothing.
That old man had been a person. He’d had a life, maybe even a wife and children, it was as if her new father didn’t care. It had been weeks before Roe had figured it all out, she hated it. Absolutely hated it. The ever-changing laws,the constant flow of complaints that rolled through the palace doors. It seemed as if the royals lived their lives on a different level altogether, separated from the ‘commoners’ as it were. Theft, adultery, and murder were all unacceptable acts of behavior, punishable by harsh means, and yet for a royal to do so.
She thought back a few weeks past, to the night her mother had gone with her sisters to visit some close friends. She had been gone for three days, when it happened, having been forced to retire for a fourth night due to the storms that raged on through the valley. Her mother had not been there to satisfy the needs of her husband, but that mattered not to him.
It was pure accident really. Roe had not expected to find anyone beyond the palace walls, and especially not the King. But there he was, naked as the day he was born, in the small forest glen, sprawled out beneath one of the palace’s many young women. Oh, Roe remembered it well. The woman had had red hair, her body was as white as the clouds in the sky, but it was the whimpers she let out, that had caught Roe’s attention.
As it had turned out, the bastard had taken her from her duties in the palace study. She had been dusting the bookshelves ‘He used the little feather duster to tickle my nipples…’ Roe shook her head as she heard the woman’s giggles in her mind. Oh, he’d used that feather duster alright, and when they were done, she’d followed the little trollop back to the bath house, and listened to her tell her tale to her friends.
‘Just wait, until he takes you to his favorite cave.’ She’d heard another say, as they splashed about in the warm waters.
‘My favorite place, is the dungeons below. To feel so bound and helpless.’
Roe had listened to it all that night. Only to watch the next day as the bastard greeted her mother with the very same lips he’d used to taste those other women.
‘To love and honor one another. To be faithful and cherish the life you both live, together.’
Unless you were a royal, then you could lay with whomever you choose. Roe was pretty sure that girl had been a virgin before the King had had his way with her. She was pretty sure they’d all been pure.
“Princess Roselle?” The voice came from behind her, she was taken completely by surprise. “My lady, please? Step away from the edge, slowly!” He added.
“Pardon?” She let out. Though just now realizing just how close she was, it wasn’t really a bad idea. “Sorry...” She added with a smile, “The view is just so...”
“Of course, my Lady! Just, please...” He urged her again, “The sun is setting and there is much ground to cover. Your father worries for your safety!”
“Is it really that late?” Roe sighed, had she really lost track of the time?
“When you did not arrive home for evening meal, we were sent out to find you! Your mother is in quite a state, my Lady! We should hurry!”
“I am sorry! I got sidetracked is all.” She sighed, closing her eyes.
Royal duties awaited it seemed, if she didn’t go with the soldier now, who knew who else the King would send out to find her.
The tavern was full of people the next morning, boasting about the so called, up and coming hunt. The palace was said to have captured not one, but two, Dragons, and were holding them until the day of the hunt. Mia had to laugh, as she sat across from her mate and downed the last of her ale.
“These fools think they can take down a Dragon, ha!” She grinned, but Nyx was not in the mood.
He hadn’t been in the mood last night, either. WHen she’d finally crawled up the stairs and fallen in next to him, the brute hadn’t even budged. “You gonna make it?” She asked, and he nodded his head, but remained silent. “You, wanna go find some real food?”
He shook his head this time, and Mia rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll be upstairs, getting my shit! I am going to explore!”
“You can’t!” He grumbled, and rose from his chair. “We must wait for the others!”
“Oh, really?” Mia cocked a brow at him. “Do they get the silent treatment, too?”
He glared at her, and she knew, something was wrong. Ever since he’d come down this morning, he’d been a total downer. Nonetheless, she made her way to their room, with him following her.
“I don’t know, why you gotta be such an ass!” She huffed, and turned the handle to open their door, and came face to face, with Arden.
“Euphamia!” Arden bowed his head at her.
“Hello, Arden!” She replied, and made straight for the bathroom.
This, was not good. The last encounter she’d had with her Dragon, hadn’t been a good one. He was pissed at her, she had to wonder just how much he knew. She turned on the water, letting the sound drown out the voices; until she heard one single voice, coming from outside the window.
“Mia?” It came again, and she popped her head out, glancing left and then right, before looking up.
“Torsha?” Mia replied, “What the hell are you doing up there?”
“He’s so mad!” Torsha sighed. “I had to get out of there!”
“Who’s mad? Arden?” Mia inquired, as she climbed out the window, and up onto the roof next to her friend.
“Arden, Raimon, hell, even Kaniaus has made his concerns known!” Torsha shook her head. “Nevelyn is a wreck, and Daria won’t even talk to any of us!”
The funny thing about Mia’s Dragons, was that there weren’t just, two of them. Arden had his own entourage of males that he shared his Dragon form with, as did Nevelyn; but the fact that Kaniaus had come forth...
He, was an asshole. Worse than Arden on his moody days. Just like Madrina, a stickler for rules, but his silence had always brought Mia comfort. Not today, apparently.
“I knew it would help, that’s the only reason I did it.” Torsha went on, but when that other Dragon showed up.”
“What, other Dragon?” Mia cocked a brow at her, so confused, she had to replay the words all over again. ‘The other Dragon.’
“Her name, is Lyla, though, she is not like us, she knew, Mia!” Torsha was almost in tears.
“Knew about what?” But Mia had a pretty good idea.
“She sensed our blood, in your veins, now the others are furious with me!”