“We should all retire for the day,” I heard Archduke Owen say, catching me by surprise. I had not realized he had come in. “We can do no good to her Ladyship if we ourselves are ill with worry. Captain Connor, keep watch of Lady Selenah. The maids will stay here as well, if need be. Mistress Melanie, I advise that you rest.”
Everyone nodded in agreement to their current prince as I stood up to leave. The Archduke insisted that he escort me to my designated chamber since I did not know my way around the Palace. With the darkening sky, the halls had been lit with torches, but the passages were still daunting.
The skies crackled with lightning, flashing a brilliant white through the corridor lancets. I flinched at the sound’s similarity to the Dark Mages’ whips. The Archduke laughed aloud at my fear and I scowled, feeling my cheeks flame.
“What is so funny, Archduke?”
“The Palace is just so gloomy right now,” he said. “And after everything that has happened today, it was nice to have something to laugh about.”
I nodded, understanding what he meant. I was all too keen on forgetting today’s little mishap on the road.
“And please, call me Owen,” he said with a genuine smile. I could only imagine why he would want to familiarize himself with such a normal girl like me, but friends were hard to come by and I was not going to throw that chance away.
“Yes, Archduke Owen is a mouthful,” I agreed, looking over at him. It was then I realized how blue his eyes were, a contrast to his dark, sandy hair. He smiled and stopped before one of the chambers.
“This is yours,” he said, opening the door for me. “I hope it will be to your liking, Melanie —may I call you by that?— I was quite rushed into deciding on where everyone’s chambers should be,” he added. I nodded.
“It is quite all right. I understand. Thank you and good night, Owen.” He smiled and turned away. I entered the semi-large room devoid of furniture beyond necessity, and closed the door.
After I had readied myself for bed, with the extra clothes in the armoire, I noticed something flying in the sky. I walked up to the window and opened the shutters. A surprisingly cold draft blew in, making me shiver in my nightgown. I craned my neck to look up at the object.
It looked like a bird, or the shadow of one. Perhaps an eagle? I thought it was odd to find a bird flying in the midst of an upcoming storm, but blamed it on my tired state. I closed the window and went to bed.
The next morning, I awoke to harsh sunlight. I blinked, turning away from the light before getting out of bed. I changed into a simple dress of pale blue from the wardrobe in the chamber, brushed my hair, washed my face, and grabbed a hair tie and some pins for my hair.
As I struggled to put them on, I wondered why it was so quiet. I turned to face the window, surprised to see that it was open; a warm breeze wafted in but that was it. Not a single bird sang. Had I not closed it the night before?
Frowning, I left my chamber to have some breakfast. As I turned a corner I stumbled into someone. The loose pins fell from my grasp and my hair fell back down over my shoulders.
“You should be more care—” Owen caught himself and apologized. He knelt down to gather what I dropped. “My apologies. It is just that everyone here, well, is a little...” He fumbled for a word.
“Clumsy?” I supplied with a slight smile.
He nodded with a smile of his own. I took the pins and hair tie from him and quickly did my hair.
“Do you mind taking me to the dining quarters?” I asked. He shook his head and offered an arm.
As he walked me there, I asked him, “Have you noticed the Palace is so quiet?”
“Yes, as if it is holding its breath,” he said.
“Even the birds,” I added. “I have not seen one or heard one since last night.”
“Did you not see it? The large bird in the sky?” Owen shook his head. I shrugged. “Where is everyone? Did the King not send for maids and Guards?” I asked, looking around the empty hallway.
“They should be here,” Owen said. “Oh, and I forgot to say,” his voice lowered. “Lady Selenah is still asleep.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Still?”
He nodded. How odd, I thought. The dream was a message for me. Why is it different for Selenah now?
Hearing that last bit of news, I was not in the mood for eating, but dined with Owen anyway.
I decided there was only one place for me to spend my time in: the Grand Library. I had nothing else to do and I was not going to waste my time staring and waiting for Selenah to wake up. When she did, the world would resume play. So until then, I had some free time. Owen bid me goodbye when I told him of my plan. I grinned at his excuse of tending to princely duties than spend time at the library.
Searching the aged shelves, I took up all books that contained any history during the time when the Reaper was still alive. Perhaps in his life, he had some weakness that we could use against him now that he was back as the Shadow Reaper.
There were only two books that met the criteria: “History of Royal Princes” and “Powerful Enemies: Tales of Queen Sellena the First’s Rivals.”
I spent hours looking over the books. It was difficult to find which prince the Reaper, now Shadow Reaper, had been; especially since having four sons were very common amongst Royal Families. And among those sons there was at least one that had acted against the court in some way.
Taking a different approach, I looked through Sellena the First’s history. The Dark Mages had talked of her, so it seemed a good alternative to Tiran’s story. But even this search came up short: Sellena the First seemed to have many Dark Mages as enemies who were very powerful, according to the author, the Royal Scribe of that time period. None stood out to me as the Reaper, now Shadow Reaper.
“Mistress Melanie, there you are!” someone called.
I looked up, startled by the loud noise. A maid was at the doorway to the library, catching her breath.
“You must hurry. Follow me.” She turned on her heel and ran. I followed after her, leaving behind the two books.
The maid led me to Selenah’s chamber and ushered me inside as she stood by the door. There were only two others in the room: Connor and Owen. They looked up at me, a worried expression on each of their faces. I walked up to Selenah and knelt down, bracing myself for the worst.
At first I did not notice what was wrong with her. Why did they have sent for me? Then I saw it: her right hand was transparent. I could see the bed covers that her hand rested upon.
“What is this?” I asked aloud in disbelief. No one answered.
I raised my hand to touch hers, expecting it to go straight through, but it did not. It still felt as if her hand was solid, though it looked translucent.
For some reason, I felt grief-stricken. If Selenah left, I really would be alone. She kept me standing and ready to fight. She encouraged me to keep going, because all I wanted to do was outshine her and show the world I was someone, too.
I did not know why, but tears began to fall. They were from not only the possibility of losing her, but from all my past pains. Selenah had taken what mattered to me the most when I was young, but losing her would mean losing the world to utter darkness. Because whether I liked it or not, she would save the kingdom. She had to.
I gripped onto her cold, transparent hand, and urged her to wake up, so she could be the hero everyone wanted her to be. To become the hero our parents gave their lives for. To become the Queen that everyone believes she will be. To become the loving sister I had always dreamed she would be.
In response to my touch, I felt her hand curl around mine. At first I thought this to be good, until she began tightening her grip. I nearly cried out as her nails dug in to my palm, cutting into my skin. But her twisted mouth and wrinkled forehead only told me she was in deep pain. I could not blame her for what she was doing.
Heavy rain battered against the windows, nearly drowning out my cries. Lightning split the sky and thunder cracked above us. Selenah stirred, her face pained. She said something inaudible and tried to twist out of my grasp. Everyone else watched, paralyzed.
“It is just a dream!” I whispered harshly to her, retaining my grip on her hand despite the pain. “Wake up, Selenah! It is just a dream!” Thunder drowned out my last words, but Selenah’s eyes fluttered open.
“Mel?” she breathed, eyes wide at the sight of me beside her. I saw Connor jump from where he sat.
Selenah’s chest heaved up and down as she looked around. She opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it. Selenah looked fatigued, pale and sweaty, like something was draining her life away. Her eyelids began to droop.
“Selenah,” I said, forcing her to open her eyes again. “Do not go back to sleep. Not now.”
“I feel so tired...let me sleep...” Her eyes began to close.
“No, you have to eat first,” I pleaded. If she went back to sleep, the Shadow Reaper could drag her into another nightmare. And this time, she might not be so lucky as to wake up again. “Selenah!” I whined, jerking on her hand, which had now regained its original color.
She opened her eyes and smiled, gripping my hand.
“Mel,” she said, as if shehad now realized I was here. “Thank you.”