Waking up the next morning was an interesting and confusing time, but I probably would've done it again. After taking all the time in the world to get dressed -- cleaning myself, the room, artfully braiding my hair and fixing up my face before slipping into my old leathers -- I began walking toward the kitchen, my powers remaining happily asleep and dormant. The smell of food had originally woken me up, and I could hear voices laughing and the sizzling of bacon being cooked. The downside was that as I was stepping into the kitchen, someone stepped out, and I slammed into their chest. Their chuckle was poorly stifled as I landed on my ass, my braid smacking my face. I glared up at whoever it was, unaware of exactly who it was until I had a good look at them.
He was grinning, and bent down to lift me back up to my feet. I was stunned, my thoughts of a fun breakfast with my brothers and father flying out my mind. They were replaced by a dark dungeon, cold and dreary. I didn't even realize I started shaking until Shade gently tapped my cheek, resting his warm hand on my jaw.
"Come eat, Cloud," he told me gently, steering me into the kitchen. Everyone was squished around the dining table; my father, my brothers, the other two warriors and the Prince as well. An open spot awaited me, in between Terrance and Charles, while Shade took a seat beside Warren and Travis. My father continued to get up and check the second round of food being cooked while the boys were already digging in. I watched them for a second, expecting a cold silence, but instead it was all talking and laughter. A small smile broke through my shock as I began to dig into my own mound of food, joining in on their jokes and conversations.
All was going perfectly until Charles nudged my elbow during a lull in the conversation. His eyes were filled with caution as he swallowed his food, nervously playing with his fingers.
"Cloud," he began, "we've been thinking of moving to the castle. Us boys can work with knights and graduate faster and Dad can help with the work around the castle, and we'll all be together. And safe."
I swallowed my mouthful, trying to process the bomb he'd dropped on me. Eyes were beginning to fixate on us, the boys waiting for my reaction. Instead of gracing their sprung proposition with an answer, I continued to eat my food and blatantly ignored them while my thoughts aligned. They hesitantly took bites of their own breakfast, tension blanketing the air.
"Will you actually be safer?" I asked, trying to figure out what I could do. The Darkbloods wouldn't attack anyone important to me, but if my brothers became knights, I couldn't blame a Darkblood for hurting them out of self-defense, sibling or not. This war went beyond my personal feelings, it was about the abilities and discrimination of the two types. Darkbloods thrived on slaughtering Lightbloods, and Lightbloods took pride in killing as many Darkbloods as they could. It was a vicious cycle, and if I could protect my brothers from that I would.
"Yes," Elijah instantly answered. "They'll constantly have strong allies with them. They'll be fine, Cloud."
A Lightblood Prince, I thought as I made eye contact with Elijah. Would he understand the kind of life Darkbloods lived if I explained it to him? Would he except that they're not completely monsters?
Elijah caught me staring, tipping his chin up proudly. I nearly rolled my eyes, coming to the conclusion of no. My eyes passed to my brothers, each one of them looking determined and brave. The twins sat close together, while Charles took my hand as his eyes gave me his best puppy dog look.
"Fine," I caved, watching smiles light up their faces, "but what about the farm?"
My father shrugged as he dropped more bacon onto the greasy platter. "You sold yourself off for your entire life, so says the Prince. So we'll sell the farm and move permanently."
Just like that?
I gulped, my throat dry as the desert. I had no idea what the Prince told the rest of my family while I'd been asleep. Terrance knew exactly what I was, but did the others?
"Before you throw everything away, you should know who you're doing it for," I announced, pushing my chair away from the table. My legs shook as I stood, catching Terrance's eye. He looked worried, but nodded in support as I backed off a few steps, giving myself ample room.
Two as one. The Gray One.
I shut my eyes, waiting for the sound of gasps. They came as I felt a tug on the material of my shirt before my wings ripped clean through, the same thing happening to my tail. Pain struck my scalp as my braid was tugged by my horns, causing it to become messy. I opened my eyes slowly to see Terrance and the Prince's group looking solemn, waiting for the reactions of my father and two brothers. My wings fluttered, responding to my distress.
"Beautiful," my father breathed eventually, gently putting his pan back on the stove as he walked toward the strong wings at my sides. I could feel it as he brushed his fingers along the sensitive feathers, feeling their soft texture.
"Your mother was wrong when she called you a demon. Black or white, you're an angel," he added, carrying placing a gentle kiss on my forehead. "I will keep to my decision."
Relieved, I kissed his cheek before turning to my brothers. Warren looked sick to his stomach, while Charles was stone faced.
"Guys?" I squeaked, my wings folding close to my body and my tail wrapping around my leg in fear. Charles rose from his seat, slowly walking toward me.
He leaned forward, eyes on my mouth. When I exhaled, he grabbed my jaw and began examining the fangs in my mouth. He then poked my horns, gently trying to push them. "It's all real," he eventually concluded, looking down at me with a smirk. "You really are some demon hybrid thingy."
My brother shrugged. "I'm cool with it. Makes it all worth something," he said with a genuine grin, ruffling my braided hair some more. I swatted at him, watching as he danced away, giving Warren the chance to stare at me, his face pale. I relaxed, letting my extra features go limp. Remaining unthreatening as Warren cautiously came closer, stopping within a foot of me.
"Is this why you could get to Terrance?"
"Warren, I--" I began, trying to make light of the situation before he cut me off.
"Answer the question, Cloud," he demanded, eyes hard as he searched for a hint of emotion within mine.
He found nothing but the need to be accepted.
"This is all new and special and mystical," I sighed, "but yes, this form, this part of me, was why the Darkbloods gave Terrance back."
A flicker of understanding appeared within his eyes and he ran his hands through his hair.
"Then I'll learn to find it normal," he replied, smiling for a moment. "Thank you for bringing back our brother."
I nodded, ensnaring him in a hug. The other Rose family members joined, my wings wrapping around us as the wound of Terrance and I's absence began to heal.
As they should.