Drake (Book 1)

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12:36 p.m.

Classical music played throughout the ballet room as Lyn and the other ballerinas did their warm-ups for today’s session. She secured her hair in a tight bun and slipped on her ballet shoes. The other girls awaited her on the floor eager to meet their new instructor. Lyn regarded them coldly as she sauntered past the paneled mirrors behind her. Her menacing gaze gave each girl a sense of despair and dread as she inspected them.

Lyn knew that amongst them was a hidden talent not yet shown to the world. She would need to cull the herd to find the right one. For she knew only one girl could play the black swan. So far, the potential prospects seemed less than desirable. But in her mind she thought of her old ballet instructor from France. Elizabeth Swan, an English-born ballerina who was perhaps the best of her time. Ruthless but efficient was how she would describe her.

She did a simple warm-up with the girls to assess their mastery of the basics. They watched Lyn with awe as if her toes sailed through the floor. She floated like a feather, her movements elegant that came with a sense of profound freedom. The other girls stopped and watched in awe. Then the music stopped, snapping Lyn to reality.

Lyn didn’t break a sweat. By now, the entire studio focused on her. It was her studio anyway. She had bought it six months ago since the incident with Sullivan. Godfrey and her attending physician recommended it to recover. A way to keep her mind and body active. A way to keep her mind off Drake. It worked. For the first few weeks…

“None of you have mastered the basics,” she scolded with a haughty glare. “From what I’m seeing now, none of you can play the black swan…” Her foot tapped against the floor and she sighed.

She left the studio, and the music resumed. Another instructor took her place as she made her way to the stairs of the second floor. Then she heard the bell ring from the main entrance and a woman slipped through. She and Lyn exchanged a skeptical glance.

The woman was a platinum blonde with gold eyes, whose scent was that of flowers on a gravestone. She wore a black and white leotard with leggings and shouldered a gym bag. Loose strands of hair dangled down her face, and she brushed them aside and smiled. Lyn recognized a diva when she saw one and scorned.

“I heard you needed a black swan.”

Lyn crossed her arms. “I do. But what makes you think you’re it?”

The girl scoffed and set down her bag. “I’m not fantastic at explaining things. So how about I show you. The name’s Serina, by the way. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Lyn scoffed, but shook her hand. Serina’s knife-like claws dug into her flesh, drawing specks of blood. But Lyn didn’t flinch. Serina’s figure expressed in her eyes the color of the freshest rain drops.

1:09 p.m.

A murder of crows dispersed over the canopy of the forest. They gathered along the branches of several trees, watching the men below them through their black, bead-like eyes. On the ground, a group of men wearing porcelain masks that resembled animals gathered around a corpse. The corpse resembled a pin cushion with the myriad of needles protruding from its body. One man, who wore a tan cloak with the fox mask unsheathed a blade.

Black feathers fell like rain. With a quick slash, the man decapitated the corpse, taking the bleeding head, its eyes still open and stuffing it in a sack. A few crows left the safety of the trees and landed a few feet away from the cadaver. The man with the fox mask nodded, prompting his subordinate to blow a special whistle.

On cue, the murder of crows swarmed the body, devouring its entirety in seconds. Nothing remained but steel needles and the soft patch of grass where it had once laid.

“This happens to deserters,” Raizo said. He wore a dark cloak with a cat mask.

The mask muffled his voice. Royal, the man in black who wore the dog mask, turned to their leader. “What now?”

Aaren stuffed his hand in his cloak pockets and turned to the sky. It was a gray afternoon. “We’re one step closer to finding the man who killed Ulysses. And my family. Drake…”

1:29 p.m.

Serina bowed to her audience at the last note of the song. Her audience clapped and cheered at her superb performance. She ambled over to Lyn in her dress as black as charcoal with dark wings. Makeup made her skin pale as a ghost with amber colored contacts, ruby red lipstick and a crystal blue crown.

Lyn wore a smug. Godfrey stood by her side, his expression sullen and dull as usual. Serina bent slightly at the knee and spread the fabrics of her dress.

“Not bad,” Lyn said. “If we were only casting a white swan, then the role would be yours. You’re good. But not that good…”

Serina chuckled and her face grew dark, as if melting through the pale makeup.

“Miss Valeska,” Serina replied. “You can tell a lot about people by the way they dance. That’s your gift. I can tell a lot about someone by looking into their eyes. And you look like a woman who’s trying to run away from something. Someone who’s trying to forget. Am I wrong?”

Lyn narrowed her eyes. “Who exactly are you? You’re more than just a ballerina…” Lyn paced around her like a lioness in the wild. “No one moves like that anymore. That style hasn’t been seen in centuries.”

“Let’s just say I had an excellent teacher…” Serina mused.

Lyn sauntered just past her and stopped suddenly. Sweat trickled down Godfrey’s neck and he reached for the holster concealed on his waist.

Without looking back, Lyn said, “Then stick around for a bit. But don’t fly too close to the sun. You might get burned…”

Serina’s lips pulled into a tight grin. “Well then. Let’s break a leg shall we?”

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