The café was busy, customers calling for their coffee or herbal tea orders like every Monday morning rush. They wore their grogginess on their shoulders, only perking up once they had taken a sip of their drink, caffeine coursing through their veins as they exited with a bump in their step. Lucky them, I suppose, they did not have to gruel through the weekend shifts as we did. Even sitting on my break, I could hear the chatter outside as I scrolled through my phone. One slave is a slave for another, I guess.
I only glanced up when Addy came rushing in, her cheeks red as she grinned at me like a fool. The clock behind her head told me I still had fifteen minutes left to go before having to brave the counter again.
“You won’t believe it. There is a really hot guy looking for you, like really hot with these intense eyes,” Addy exclaimed, rushing each word while bunching up her skirt to reveal more of her freckled legs. Rolling my eyes, I stood up, pocketed my phone and strolled out of the breakroom. Sure enough, there was a handsome man behind the counter his face turned towards the door.
“Afternoon sir, how can I help you?” I tried to keep the venom out of my voice as my precious lunchtime ticked by. The man glanced at me then, his eyes intensely scanning over my face. Addy was right in that aspect but everything about him made me uneasy. The way his eyes were almost animalistic in their golden chocolate colouring and how he gripped the countertop so hard that his knuckles were white.
“Are you Harper Grace?” Raising an eyebrow at his accent, I folded my arms over my chest while slowly taking a step back from the counter.
“Yes. What business do you think you have with me?”
“We must leave right now before it is late, and they arrive.”
“Excuse me? I don’t know you and surely would not go with you anywhere. If you are not going to spend money here, then leave,” I growled, going back into the breakroom with the turn of my heel. Addy was gawking at me as I resumed my position on the stained couch and continued my scrolling, trying to push away the unease the man had placed over me.
“How could you do that? That guy was so your type and even knew your name! Why did you drop him like that?” Addy fell onto the couch next to me, her skirt riding up as I rolled my eyes at her naivety.
“You’re eighteen and you think that’s a way a guy should pick you up? No, that is just a creep poorly attempting a kidnapping. Now, please leave me be, I don’t need further stress in my life than that asshole has added.” Addy huffed and threw her hands down on either side of her on the cushion as if that would change my opinion.
When the clock finally hit its mark, I sighed and stood up. Adjusting my hair and patting the creases out of my skirt, I faked a kind smile as I exited the breakroom, hoping the last hours would tick by faster than the first lot. I was lucky that is what exactly happened. The afternoon rush was pleasant and smooth sailing with little requirement of conversation with sleazy teenage boys and bitchy girls. When it came to locking up, I was left behind, waving the other baristas off.
Humming to myself, I turned the key in its lock before feeling a prick like a bee sting at the side of my neck and the whole world blacked out.
Hardwood dug into my back and elbows, my knees stinging from being scuffed. Muffled voices slowly came into focus, their words too hushed and slurred over for me to understand them but the speakers were clearly a man and woman. Swallowing hard against the lump in my throat, I slowly pushed myself onto my elbow as the wood under me rocked. It took me a moment, but I realized I was in a carriage, the window in front of me allowing in a cold breeze as dark objects passed by behind the sheer curtain.
My mind was racing. Where was I? What the hell happened? More importantly, how do I escape? My legs were like jelly, but I managed to claw myself to the window. It was big enough for me to slip through. Clenching my teeth, I pulled myself up and pushed myself through, landing with a hard thump on the ground. Stones bit at my palms as I scrambled to my feet, readying to bolt when something cold and scaly touched my hand, the same sensation wrapping around my calf. Glancing back, a scream lodged itself in my throat.
Two golden reptilic eyes peered down at me from a face pushed forward like a snake. Its scaled hand let go of my own but the tail held fast to my calf. Its mouth opened then, revealing jagged teeth as a rasping sound came from deep within its throat. I felt my consciousness slipping between my fingers again as its arms came around my waist.
When I came to again, my body was aching even though whatever I was lying on was comfortable and lulled me into trying to curl up in sleep. Silky pillows slipped under my cheek, the sheets wrapping themselves softly around my legs. Cracking my eyes open, I tried to get rid of the sensation of sleep while accidentally being assaulted by the light trickling through the thick curtains, giving me a slim view of stained-glass patterns.
“Easy, do not push yourself.” Jolting, my joints throbbed at the instant action. “Your Majesty, you will only make it worse by doing that.”
The man’s hands came to my head and shoulder, slowly pushing me back down onto the bed. My heart was pounding at his words but my body seemed to ease with his touch. Looking up at him, I was taken aback. Even though their voice was masculine, their looks were petite like a woman’s.
“M-majesty?” I coughed out, watching as a gentleness crossed over their light blue eyes. With them being so close, I could see the dark blue outlining them with another lighter colour rounding their pupil.
“You have much still hidden from you, I see. Your father never mentioned us either, I presume.” They sat down lightly next to me, their body sagging ever so slightly against the headboard. “I must apologize, this must be all so strange, and the Barrier Travel has most definitely made it feel like all your limbs have been dislocated and forcibly shoved back in.”
Clenching my teeth, I had to take a deep breath before speaking. “That does not answer my question. Where am I? What do you mean by majesty?”
They smiled tiredly, running a hand through their curly chin-length hair. By doing so, I noticed the slim gold circlet resting amongst the black curls and earrings peeking out as the hair fell back in place. Even the clothes they wore were cinched in at their waist and accented their tanned skin with aqua greens and blues.
“My name is Kit, your personal advisor. My job is to guide you in this transition and make sure you and your partner do not burn down your kingdom.” Kit clapped their hands in their lap, looking at me. “Does that help?”
“That just brings up more questions! The only thing that makes any sense is the pain I’m feeling compared to this bullshit looney tune world you’re talking about. I would know if I had any royal blood in me or I would not have been working as a slave in a bloody coffee shop.”
“Well then, the only thing that would make you understand would be to take you to the library. Can you walk?”
“Good. Let us not waste time.”
Kit gave me a knowing smile as if something like this was happening somewhere else at that moment. When they stood up, they helped me out of the bed, glancing away as I pulled down my skirt into place. Compared to the room, I was dirty and did not fit in with the royal aesthetic as I let my feet touch the cold stone floor before shoving on my shoes.
Kit led me out of the bedroom into a candlelit hallway, a black carpet running down its centre. Dark purple tapestries hung from the high ceiling, fighting knights and dragons embroidered into them with dull colours. Curtains hid windows on my left side, tall candlestick holders sitting in between the gaps where black brick showed. Other than the occasional door, the hallway was long, bare and cold.
Kit walked with their hands clasped behind their back, slender fingers interlocked. The baggy clothing slipped down their shoulders, showing embroidered straps of a vest. Pinkish scars stretched up from beneath those, seeming like cuts from something other than a knife. If Kit was my royal advisor, what were the circumstances bringing them into that role and rank?
When we stopped, it was in front of a large, elaborately carved doorway. Through it, I could see dark bookshelves lining walls and forming aisles. There was even a second floor, a ladder just peeking out from behind the wooden railings. As we went inside, I could see two tapestries hanging on the wall, on either side of the decorative window. In front of them was a sturdy black desk, quills and inkpots on one side while the other had parchments and an open leatherbound book.
“This is your shared library with your partner. Many of the other studies have been given to court members, but I can assure you this is the grandest one.” Kit glanced over their shoulder, pride flashing in their eyes as I kept quiet. “Now, please turn your eyes to the tapestry on the right. There, our world and yours collide.”
Staring up at the tapestry, I took a deep breath. It was of a woman. She had a black crown atop her head, solemn light-coloured eyes forward. In her right hand was a staff and her left a sword. Her clothes were ebony, flowing around her body and hanging from her arms. Under them was a slim hint of metallic thread acting as armour. At her feet were fiend-like beasts, their eyes threaded red.
“That, Harper Grace, is your mother, Queen Nesryn.”
“My mother?” Kit was silent as they turned to face me, the side of their mouth quirking up at something behind me.
“You took your time.”
Keeping my irritation at bay, I glanced over my shoulder. The man from the coffee shop was there, another standing behind him. Anger caused me to clench my hands into fists.
“Now, I can answer those questions.”