That night, I slept in my bed from start to finish while Kai rested in the stables, patched up from his fight with Kyra. Nothing was too damaged in the hallway, only scorched. The dragons had mostly bitten each other and blown fire, meaning that Kai was bleeding from his side, leg and neck, with a burn covering most of his tail and one of his hips. Kyra, supposedly, had bite marks all around her shoulders and near her face, and a burn on her leg, but I didn't think either of them had won in the end. Neither had I, with my busy, hectic day. Trouble seemed to be following me in my shadow, and it exhausted me. I missed my brothers and the farm.
But another part of me thrived off the adventure. I was anxious, but excited, and my blood and power felt charged and ready for use. The thought of learning to fight kept me up for a while, and I laid back on the chaise lounge with a book given to me by one of the maids for multiple hours before finally being calm enough to sleep.
In the morning, a maid came in and ordered me to bathe before 'fixing' my hair as she said and dressing me in a casual, flowing baby pink dress. It was comfortable and surprisingly pretty as I checked myself in the mirror, glad to see no horns, fangs, wings or tails. All I had was a thick brown braid, excited hazel eyes, lovely tanned skin and regular human teeth.
And thank the gods for that.
After getting me ready, the maid escorted me to the 'unofficial' dining room, which was next door to the tea room and had an identical wall of windows but larger, nicer tables. Already seated was the Queen, Prince, a woman and three men, all four of them new to me. I curtsied before beelining for the first open seat.
"Cloud," the Prince said, interrupting my rush for the chair, "your spot is here."
I followed to where he was pointing, spotting the open space. The Queen sat at the head of the table on one end, and the Prince sat on one side of her across from one of the men. The seat next to him was empty, with the woman sitting on the other side of the empty spot and the other two men sitting with the third on their own side of the table.
"Oh, of course," I blurted, walking around to their side of the table and gathering my skirt before sliding into the open seat. The woman smiled, her teeth perfect little squares.
"Cloud," Queen Amara began, "these are my four advisors. The woman is Lillian Garcia, and these men here are Iain Sampson, Jason Taylor and Michael Wender." She pointed each one out, with Iain across from Elijah, Jason across from me and Michael sitting opposite of Lillian. Each of them shot me a welcoming smile, and I began to recognize them by their reputation in the Valley.
"'Lillian the Generous'," I quoted, "'Iain the Brave, Jason the Talented and Michael the Clever.' The Queen's ex-elite." My respect had instantly increased for the people around me as they shrugged, confirming their status while trying to downplay themselves. "You're all legends down in the Valley," I told them, staring at Jason. He'd always been my favourite of the four.
Lillian sighed, a small smile on her lips. "I'm glad. A girl doesn't work for years to get nothing out of it," she joked, playing with a lock of her straight raven hair. Her eyes were a playful brown, glittering as she laughed. Across from her, Michael rolled his eyes. I could instantly detect that the four were old friends, and found myself laughing when they did.
As breakfast began, platter after platter of food was brought out for our enjoyment. We continued chatting, a general light hearted nature sticking around the table.
But all good things come to an end.
As we were finishing up, I was the last to stand, and happened to bump into a maid who had awkwardly reached over my shoulder for a platter. When my shoulders connected with her arms, she lost her grip on the silver platter in her hands which had been holding fresh fruit and was now covered in their juice. The platter flipped, landing in my lap and causing a loud noise as it smacked the edge of the table. I stifled a laugh as the smell of pineapple drifted up from my skirt, and rose up before turning around.
Only to see the maid on her knees, blubbering about forgiving and mercy. It shocked me, considering I could feel the fear she had of me. Misunderstanding why she was afraid, I bent to help her to her feet, but the woman screamed and pulled away as if my touch burned her.
Tears dotted my eyes as I heard her whimper something about Darkbloods. Guilt washed away my confusion and I backed away, crossing to the other side of the table so that the woman could gather herself. The others looked pained, unable to defend me since rumours about my frightening Darkblood form were traveling through the castle after they announced my presence. At this rate, the rumours were probably all over the Valley as well. If they reached my mother, she would do her best to confirm them.
Or would she defend me?
I bowed my head, rushing for the door in a flurry of shame and pink fabric. No one stopped me as I slipped through, holding my palms against my eyes to keep from crying as I rushed through the hallways, reaching out with my mind.
Kai, I thought, my inner voice unaffected by my emotions like my outer one would've been, how do I get to you?
There was no response. Either he was asleep, or I wasn't sending my projection with enough power. Gritting my teeth in frustration, I wiped at my eyes before looking around me, spotting nothing familiar.
But while I was seeing nothing, I also noticed a figure at the end of the hall, seemingly facing me. It stood stock still, with no emotion.
Storm-Cloud Rose, a chilling voice said in my head, causing me to jump. Your leisure time is up, Cursedblood. You are no longer free.
What do you mean? I replied, trying not to come off as aggressive as I stared at the form.
The Gray War has nearly begun, child. Find who you trust most before it happens, the figure warned before taking a step toward me, its face coming into the light. Unlike its chilling voice, the figure was a human girl with ordinary features and no extra scary ones. You will have to give up more than you expect if you wish them to live.
Your brother is just the beginning.