The distant voice pulled me out of the darkness.
“Mom! Grandma!” I called out. I sounded different. Young. Scared.
The voice echoed into silence.
“Mom! Grandma!” I shouted as fear consumed me.
The echo sustained until I got sucked into the darkness. However, this time I wasn’t alone. There was a pair of bloodshot red eyes staring back at me. A scream bubbled in my chest but I can’t speak. I was immobile. I was caged.
I sat up with a start. My heart pounded in my ear. It took me a second to compose myself. I was still rattled by the typical nightmare. Glancing at my bedside table, I studied the only source of light in my dark room, which was the digital clock. The green light looked foreign. However, it was the only thing that kept me aware of how long I slept. Three hours. Not worse than most days.
With a huff, I laid back down and wiped away the visible sweat forming on my forehead with the back of my hand. Uncertain on how to fall asleep again, my thoughts kept on swirling around the inevitable, per usual.
Every day I was getting close to turning eighteen. Most girls would have been overjoyed at the idea of turning the big one eight. But not all girls would get the same responsibility that came along with it. Plus, I wasn’t like most girls.
I’m Rhoane – Roe –Knightley, a Kynigan. A Custodian Royal. As the day passed, my value was more and more to the Custodian Order. I was no longer my own person. I was a commodity. Well, it was how I felt now I was nearing my eighteenth birthday.
After my heart mellowed, my body regaining back its composure, I got up and took a shower. Sleep was no longer an option. It was already past six in the morning when I finished getting ready for the day. I waited for the occupants of the house to wake up rather than roam around. So, I remained in my quarters and started pacing.
A knock on the door brought me to a halt. I wasn’t even aware I had been walking in circles in the middle of the room. Without my verbal response, the person behind the door gave themselves the go sign to enter.
“Why are you still here? I thought you’re in his office by now.” Looking up, I wasn’t surprised to see who it was. There were only a handful of people I was close enough to be excused for rudely barging in.
I expectantly studied my childhood friend and arched my eyebrow. “Why do you think I’m still here for? I’m thinking, Kaleb.”
I noted him brushing his hand over his blond hair before folding it over his chest. He leans by the doorframe. “You’re still trying to find ways to get his approval, which I presume still wasn’t good enough for him.”
“Go away, Kaleb. I’m not in the mood for you to analyze me.” I muttered and returned my pacing. I felt his piercing blue eyes studying me.
On cue, another one of my closest friends appeared from the side of the door. It was like he’d been standing there the whole time. If he was, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Axel Rogan had self-appointed himself as my personal bodyguard. His family had served mine for years. He was one of the few who was fortunate enough not to be at my house the night my family was murdered. His olive skin, dark hair and brown eyes matched my features, but we aren’t in any way related.
“You heard her. You need to go.” Axel firmly pointed out, his eyes boring through Kaleb’s face.
Rather than his usual witty comeback on Axel’s solemn personality, Kaleb shook his head and held up his hand in defeat. “Fine. Fine. I’ll go. But if the old man rejected you again, don’t come running to me, and don’t make me say I told you so.”
I glared at Kaleb as he turned and walked out of the room. I couldn’t find the right words to reply when most of it was true. In the end, whenever I got rejected, I did always run to him to let off steam. He had heard every name and curse I’d addressed his father – who was the man responsible for my nine-year-long unresolved vendettas.
Lord Viktor Hunter, Kaleb’s father, and my guardian wasn’t an easy man to please. If only I’d wanted something materialistic or something less vengeful than what I was asking from him, he would have gladly opened his arms at my request. But I was asking for a permission to investigate the death of my family.
For nine years, I pleaded to the Custodian Order to allow my request. Yet nothing. No progress at all. Now I was three months away from turning eighteen – which would put an end to my plans and ideas.
Being the remaining member of a Royal Custodian Family, I was a precious and irreplaceable person. That meant I could no longer do any field or combat mission, a possibility that was slowly becoming reality. When a Custodian reaches eighteen, they are considered adults capable of serving our purpose. As for my purpose, it would no longer be valid. Power has a different description before being a Custodian Royal.
“My lady, if you want me to…” Axel began, addressing me formally with the title given to members of the royal Custodian families. But he stopped when I held up my hand.
“It’s okay, Axel. I’ll talk to Lord Hunter as many as I can. If I couldn’t convince him when the time comes, I’ll give it up – somehow.”
From the silence, I knew Axel was waiting for me to allow him to speak. But I wasn’t ready to listen. I knew he would readily offer himself for a cause now that he was of age – nineteen years old. Most Custodians his age are already shipped into a functional royal family for further training and fieldwork. But he wouldn’t accept any tasks for the reason of being my bodyguard. Though it wasn’t official, none of the higher-ups had questioned his choice. He served my family, and when I take my place in the Order, he will soon serve me.
It wasn’t until after lunch I gathered enough courage to head out towards the office. Lord Viktor Hunter is not merely the head of his family, he’s also the Minister; the leader of the Custodian Order. He’s the main roadblock to my plans. It’s vital to get his approval in order for the mission to be sanctioned.
At some point, I had thought about escaping the Hunter Mansion and investigate on my own. Though Roués were more rampant, Custodians aren’t lenient with their people who’d gone rogue, the Vaurien. I have no intention of being part of the Custodian wanted list.
Walking along the long, red carpet hallway was like strolling inside a medieval castle. The mansion’s design was inspired by that era, a time when our people had grown in strength. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mansion had been built then. High floor to ceiling windows, hand-carved wooden doors, and even the mini candelabrums hanging above added to the ambiance.
Once I’ve reached the end of the hallway, there stood the door that leads to Lord Hunter’s office. It was more elaborate and detailed compared to the doors I’ve passed. It even held streaks of gold features on it. But I’ve seen this door plenty of times for the past nine years I’ve lived on the estate. Yet its beauty never fades.
I smiled to fool myself on the bubbling nerves on the pit of my stomach. With deep breaths, I knocked. The thick door muffled the voice that answered from the inside. I was scarcely able to make out the words. So I entered the office, for the millionth time.
“Rhoane, glad you’re visiting me so early today,” Viktor greeted me calmly as he looked up from the paper works piling on his extravagant wooden desk.
Everything inside the office screamed over the top. Everything was made of velvet, polished mahogany wood with golden intricate patterned curtains and couches. It matched the theme of the whole mansion. Today, I ignored its beauty and focused on why I was here.
“I’m sorry for interrupting, Lord Hunter,” I started. “I didn’t want to intrude when you are clearly very busy. But I really need to talk –” I abruptly stopped when Viktor interjected the same premeditated response.
“It’s a no, Rhoane. I couldn’t give you what you ask. I couldn’t risk your safety.” He paused and bored his tired eyes at me. “Especially now, when you are months away from turning eighteen. You’ll formally join the Custodian Order as your family’s representative.”
“Please, Lord Hunter. I’m not asking to go there myself. You could task a team along with me. I would even listen to them if there were any signs of danger. I’ll even return here should such danger arise. But please, give me a chance to find out. I want to know. No. I need to know.” I was so close to begging and kneeling down on my knees. Though it wasn’t the first time I’d groveled for it, I’ll do it again to get his blessing. “Please, Lord Hunter. I need this now more than ever since I wouldn’t be able to get out of here once I become a member of the Order. I just want to know, to see my home one last time.”
This was the first time I’d slipped up and added to the argument about my homesickness. Though my true intentions were directed towards knowing about my family’s death, I had felt homesick a few times for the past nine years.
“Rhoane, why must you ask of this? You know how much you’re like a daughter to me, how I value your safety. Please understand my side as well. I can’t allow you to be in harm’s way, no matter how little possibility there is.”
As I was about to sink in another defeat, we were interrupted. The secret door in the corner beside Viktor’s desk opened. Strolling casually like she was walking in a park was none other than Melissa Hunter, Viktor’s wife. Her tall elegant frame was accentuated by the long flowy pale blue dress she wore.
“Give little Roe a break, Viktor.” She spoke, turning our attention in her direction. “Stop being stubborn already and give her your approval. She’d even bargained with you and asking this of you almost every day. Have a heart already.” Melissa urged like she’d been eavesdropping on our conversation since I arrived.
“Melissa, please don’t meddle with our conversation. This isn’t your call.” Viktor stated but stopped short when his wife stood beside him, spinning the leather chair he sat on.
“Now, listen here, Viktor Hunter. Don’t you tell me what is or isn’t my call? I’ve been lenient with you on some of your wild and impulsive decisions. But when a young girl had thought things through and would willingly make a plan for this, you listen and you consider.”
I was baffled watching Melissa Hunter giving the formidable Viktor Hunter, a known Custodian who was tough as ice, a piece of her mind. I’ve always viewed Lady Hunter as an understanding and accepting wife. I hadn’t seen her talk back to her husband or questioned him about his business with the Order. But today, Lady Hunter looked like she could talk a room filled with authoritative Custodians and willed the power to command them.
Viktor gaped at his wife while formulating a response. “Melissa, you know I can’t…”
“Finish your paper works, Viktor. I’ll take it from here.” She informed before stepping away.
“What do you mean…” Viktor words trailed into silence. He still looked baffled.
With a smile, Melissa pushed his chair back and turned away from him. She then regarded me assuredly. “Sweetheart, you can go. I’ve already asked the permission from other members of the Order and they’ve approved. As for protection, I think someone who could fit in would be less conspicuous. Kaleb would be with you and Tony as well. I’m sure your friend, Axel, would like to go too. I’ve also asked another experienced Custodian to supervise you.”
“Wait… Melissa… What are you…?” Viktor tried again, looking less intimidating than he usually was. It was a rare sight.
“I got it handled, Viktor,” She interjected and then held out a hand to me. “Come on, dear. Let’s discuss everything in another room.”
Since then, my love and respect for Melissa grew. I wouldn’t think of her as meek. Melissa walked up and grabbed my hand and escorted me out of the room. Viktor was still reeling from the unexpected revelation. For a moment, I thought she was leading me further away from her husband’s office, in fear of him following us. Instead, we stopped a few doors down. When she opened the door, I noticed the room was already occupied.
“From the confused look on your face, you have questions for us?” Kaleb spoke up after putting his glass down. He was sitting by the coffee table in front of the only open window in the room.
“What’s the meaning of this?” I muttered and peered towards Melissa, who had let her grip go and joined Kaleb.
“How did father take it, mom?” Kaleb inquired, ignoring my question.
“He’s still a bit shook up, which is a good thing. It gives us some time to get brief everyone. All your flights are book and process for school admissions are done since last month. As planned, you all would be leaving this evening,” Melissa informed and sat down on the chair across from Kaleb.
“What? I don’t understand…” I wheezed out the words that lingered on my lips.
“Just tell me I’m awesome and you’re grateful, Roe. No need to sugarcoat anything,” Kaleb smugly stated, grinning at my mystified expression.
“Why are you two doing this? Why now?” I finally got the whole word out.
“Because I couldn’t take it anymore seeing you so defeated, Roe. Anyway, I’m already an adult, so I could be your guardian while you’re out there.” Kaleb answered, though from how he pursed his lips, I knew he was withholding something.
I snorted. “If it was so, I would have asked Axel help. But you already know that plan didn’t pan out well…” I trailed off in embarrassment, remembering one of my fail attempts to do something.
“Axel doesn’t have the connections. I do.” He informed smugly.
I wanted to wipe the smirk off his face. But this wasn’t the time to fight with Kaleb, who I should be thinking now. I could finally go back home and find out about my family. I’m going home.
“I don’t know what to say,” I stammered, blinking back tears of joy.
“Just listen to me while we’re there. I’ll be leading this brief mission as my first act as a successor of the Hunter line.” He proclaimed proudly.
My breath was caught when I understood Kaleb’s words. “I thought Lady Hunter was the one who asked on your behalf. How did you manage to pull that off?”
“Mom helped to get four of the ten to accept the proposal. By law, it’s enough to get this accredited as an investigative mission.”
“I don’t know what to say, Kaleb.” I abruptly turned to Melissa. “Thank you so much, Lady Hunter.”
“Then don’t. You haven’t even said thank you yet…” Kaleb replied.
“Thank you. I owe you one.” I looked back at him.
“You owe me nothing, Roe.”
I paused, smiling victoriously. But then another thought crossed my mind. I had so many questions I’m not sure where to start. So I asked the first thing I could think of.
“How long had you been planning this?”
“A year. Since I turned eighteen.” He responded with no hesitation.
Nine years. It took me nine years to try and get their approval and it was just a year to him.
“Why didn’t you say anything to me?” I pressed, feeling a bit upset.
“I wanted to surprise you. It’s my advance birthday present.” He humored lightly.
“And the vote? Which four of the ten accredited this mission?”
“My brother and his wife’s father are part of the Order. So it was easy to get the two.” Melissa replied instead. “But the other two needed a bit more convincing. That was all Kaleb’s work.”
He grinned, hearing his own mother’s praise. Suddenly, our conversation was stopped when a knock on the door interrupted us. Melissa called in for the new guest to enter, which hardly surprised me by this point.
“Ah, glad the rest of the young members of the team are here. Shall we start the briefing on your mission?” Melissa asked, glancing between the four of us in the room.
The team consisted of Kaleb Hunter, head of our investigatory mission; Axel Rogan, my right hand and trusted bodyguard; and Tony Reed, who I wasn’t surprised got included since he was Kaleb’s best friend and soon-to-be advisor once Kaleb took his father’s place. Then there’s me, the reason we were here in the first place. In less than twenty-four hours, I’ll be able to find out what truly happened that night.