The clink of glass made his eyes focus and scan the room. Only a few minutes had passed, and Kaytr was already retreating into his own thoughts again. But the ballroom in front of him was alive with thunderous roars of the Fae. Their elaborate, loose clothes pooled on the floor tiles like spilled wine. Their transparent wings were tied down against the fabric on their backs. As if they could hide what they were for one night.
Fat, male Fae lounged in high-back chairs. The extra folds of their skin draped over the sides of the seats. Seats that would have swallowed the bodies of normal-sized Fae. These Fae were the elite. Kaytr knew them better as the glutinous Fae, gorging themselves in the rich food spread out of the table.
Kaytr took a sip from his goblet as the group of Elite eyed the dancing females and males. The dancers’ delicate bodies traipsed across the gold and white checkered floor. Their weariness was evident, but they kept moving all the same.
He shook his head and bit his lip to keep from barking out a comment. What difference would it make? Kaytr swirled the contents of his glass around, keeping his eyes distant and blank. No one had approached him yet this evening as he sat alone at the head table. Maybe his plastered expression of boredom had warded them all away.
Another shrill note escaped from the far corner of the room. Kaytr’s eyes drifted over the top of his cup to the shabby group of musicians. It was the fourth time they’d slipped up this evening.
“Humans. Can’t find any good ones these days”, said Kaytr
“Where’s your father? The King? He’s the King. Where is he—the King?” a drunken Fae slurred to Kaytr from across the table. The man had appeared from nowhere. He walked around the table and grabbed hold of the sleeve of Kaytr’s robe.
“Your father? Where is your father, boy?”
Kaytr pulled away from the man’s grasp. He didn’t recognize this Fae, but that meant nothing in a kingdom this large. “The King does not associate himself with Fae like you.”
The Fae stood up straighter, teetering on his feet as if Kaytr’s words had sobered him up. The oak table legs scraped across the tiles as the man rammed his body into it to get closer to Kaytr. He was enormous, towering over Kaytr’s lanky body like a wall of muscle and fat. The drunk Fae’s body glistened with beads of bitter-smelling sweat. The glint from the candles shifted around him like a dark aura.
Kaytr cleared his throat. The other Fae had started to whisper as they noticed the altercation.
“So. So you think that you can go around saying anything you want because your father’s the King, do you? You dirt piece of scum.” The Fae spat on the floor, splattering the edge of Kaytr’s robe.
Kaytr’s eyes drilled into the man as he stared back without flinching. When the Fae made no motion to move, Kaytr raised his glass to his lips.
“Cheers, friend,” he said and took a sip.
“You aren’t even royal blood,” the Fae hissed, pieces of rich meet flying from his swollen lips.
“What did you say?” Kaytr demanded. He stood up from the table, even though he knew it would only show how much bigger this man was compared to him.
“Scum!” the Fae roared and charged at Kaytr.
Kaytr shifted to the side. The drunken Fae fell to the floor with a thud that shook the entire room. He didn’t stand back up. His body had gone limp except for the gentle rising and falling of his breathing belly.
A scoff escaped Kaytr’s nostrils. These parties were always the same.
He had just taken his seat when a sharp scream ripped through the air. Kaytr’s goblet slipped from his fingers and wine splashed up onto his pale skin. But the room was still active in frivolity and excitement. He couldn’t find the source of the scream.
“Where are you?” he thought. “You should be here by now.”
Kaytr stood when he noticed that a group of Fae was gathering at the mouth of the room. As more gathered, the delicate atmosphere began to crumble into dark silence. The musicians stopped and craned their necks to see what was going on. Even the Elite had stopped shoving food into their mouths. Kaytr was already making his way towards the crowd, heart beating louder than all other noise.
The crowd shuffled in agitation like swaying reeds.
“Move,” Kaytr said. “Move aside.”
But the group was already parting for him without his orders. A pang of familiarity was beginning to sprout in his chest. His fingers were ice as the memories tangled with the scene he saw before him.
Kaytr took a step back. The source of the scream was a crumpled body on the floor. Amelie, his mother, her pale hair falling in translucent strips over her face. She lay almost flat on the floor on top of another body. Kaytr swallowed as the images from his mind and eyes connected. Amelie had collapsed over the disfigured body of her husband, King Rowland. His body bulged as if he had been drowned, and a thin trickle of foam and blood mixture dripped from his open lips. The King’s eyes were wide with unnatural terror.
The crowd was watching Kaytr’s reaction now. He had backed himself into the door of the ballroom. But now that he understood what he was looking at, he shook his head and ran. The hallway became a blur of wood as Kaytr sprinted away from the scene. The smell of wet earth filled his nostrils, and he wasn’t sure if it was from the King’s dead body or from his own sweat.
Leaning against a brick wall, Kaytr gasped for breath. He had put on a cold show for the guests, but now the weight of the entire evening had caught up with him. His entire body was beginning to shake with a combination of chilling fear. He pulled the sleeves of his robe tighter around his scarred arms. The King…the King had never cared about him. Why should Kaytr care about him now?
A flash of red and white caught his eyes.
“Linko,” Kaytr gasped as the red panda curled up at his feet.
Voices echoed down the hallway. He had to keep moving. Kaytr straightened and made his feet carry him farther into the castle. People would be leaving. He didn’t want them to find him.
“Shoo,” Kaytr hissed at the panda as it continued to follow him. “No—go now. Get away from me.”
When Linko continued to follow him, Kaytr’s mind drifted to other things. Things like his feelings about Victor. The stars had told him then that the King would be next, but Kaytr hadn’t believed it. He just hadn’t prepared for their deaths to be the same.
He stopped at the end of the corridor, Linko running into the back of his legs. Though he hadn’t meant to, his feet had carried him to his room. Kaytr opened and slammed the door behind him, ignoring the cracks in the wood that formed when it shut. He began to pace, racking his brain for the options he had at this point.
Victor, Victor, Victor.
He had been the only Fae Kaytr had trusted. The only one he had confided in. His smile was more delicate than any magic the Fae used. He could recall the sharp angles of his face the same way he could recall the memory of the night of his death. When Amelie had told him the truth. And somehow that drunken Fae had found out what the King didn’t even know…
Linko crawled up the banister of his bed and started growling at the door.
Kaytr sighed and sat down on a wooden stool where the servants usually sat when they washed his hair and feet. For once, he wished he could slip into their role. Become someone without a shining spotlight over his head.
With the death of King Rowland came something he had been trying to avoid.
“I promised him that before I became King, I would find the ones that killed him,” he said to Linko. Thoughts of talking to his spirit flittered through his mind. Talking to the deceased was not magic most Fae smiled upon. But he had been desperate.
It had been Victor’s one request before his ghost disappeared forever. And the King had sent every obstacle in his way to make him forget about the boy who had become Kaytr’s entire world.
“I’m not even close,” Kaytr muttered.
The door flew open and smashed against the wall. Kaytr shot up, hand reaching for the dagger on his bed. Adrenaline pulsed through his veins.
“You weren’t at the party—where were you?” Kaytr asked the figure standing in his doorway.
“You killed him, didn’t you?” Antione demanded. His hair was dark red like Rowland’s and hung in his face in a way that made him look more like a boy than a man.
Linko hissed from the foot of the bed.
“And what would give you the faintest idea that I had something to do with his death?” Kaytr asked. His hand retreated from trying to reach the dagger. There was no threat here.
“Please,” Antione said with pleading sarcasm. “You’re heir to the throne. Do you need any more reasons than that?” His eyes were a wild with white-hot rage.
“And now I am King,” Kaytr spat.
“NOT YET!” Antione howled and lunged at Kaytr with a silver blade he had hidden within his cloak.
Kaytr moved like a shadow to the side. He grabbed Antione’s arms and bent them behind his back until Antione fell to his knees. With a final twist, Kaytr pulled the sword from his brother’s hand and pressed it against his neck.
“I won’t let you get away with this,” Antione said through gritted teeth.
“Funny. I was going to say the same to you,” Kaytr replied. He looked up at Linko who immediately caught his eye and jumped from the bed. The red panda loped towards Kaytr’s alchemy table. Kaytr only had to hold Antione a moment longer. Linko crept up Kaytr’s shoulders with a large beaker hanging in his mouth.
“I’ll consider this a minor act of treason,” Kaytr said.
He clenched the beaker in his hand and smashed it over Antione’s head. Antione collapsed on the floor, unconscious.
A line of blood flowed from his temple onto the wood, but he was breathing. Kaytr had ensured that much. He kicked aside the scatted flecks of glass. Linko had returned to his post of growling at the door.
“He’ll be alright,” Kaytr said to the panda, though it reassured himself more. “Stay here, Linko.”
Kaytr backed out of the room, no longer feeling like it was the safest place to be. He closed the wooden door, softly this time, and started moving at a brisk pace down the hallway.
He knew he had gotten himself into a mess, and he had little time before Amelie would come looking for him. Once she found him, all hope of solving Victor’s death would vanish. She would only care about getting Kaytr coronated as fast as possible. Then his life would be consumed with the duties of the Fae King.
The smells of the kitchen sapped him back to reality. He had passed the entryway when snippets of the help’s conversation caught his ears. He pressed his back against the wall to listen more.
“—will have to step it up now, won’t he?”
“You should have seen Amelie. I’ll wonder what she’ll do.”
“Did they know, you think?”
“Know which Fae did it, of course? I love watching a good trial.”
“There won’t be a trial for that. Execution, more like.”
“So, you think they know who it is, then?”
“No, but whether we see it or not, they’ve got the Fae Curse on ’em now.”
The voices continued too softly to hear. At the far end of the hall, the door rattled. Kaytr pressed his body against the wall, feeling like his skin was part of the structure. He took a breath in. From the shadows, he saw Amelie burst through the door in a wild fit of tears and hysteric mumbling.
“Special. They said he was special!”
She ran down the hallway and through the other door, unaware of his hidden presence.
Kaytr released his clenched hands. Amelie had said the same things to him—about him— the night Victor had died. That he was special. He had thought she had loved him, even though he wasn’t hers. But he knew now more than ever. She only wanted redemption for her own mistakes.
He continued walking down the hallway and down the stairs. His feet knew the pathway, which gave him time to think. The kitchen staff had made several points that were of interest to him. One of which he couldn’t prove, but he still had a hunch. Another of their statements had led him to this next destination. If the kitchen staff was correct—and if anyone in the castle was correct it would be them—then Kaytr only had a little work to do.
Silent as the night had become, Katyr opened the heavy doors to the palace library. It was dark inside, as he expected. He touched the golden pole of the lantern standing guard at the entrance. Candles snapped to life, illuminating the bookshelves on both floors. At the center of the room was a thick slab of granite most often used as a desk. Not a single book had gone untouched in Kaytr’s obsession to find what had killed Victor.
It made as little sense to him now as it did then. For once, books had failed him. But the comments he had overheard had reminded him of a phrase he had read near the beginning of his search. To the kitchen staff, it might be superstition. Kaytr knew better than to presume legend was a complete lie.
He walked towards a shelf like all the others. This one contained what most of the Fae considered to be folktales. Some were stories written by humans about the Fae world. Some were passed down orally for so long that it was impossible to know if any of it was true. Though the books were old and well-used, dust covered their bodies. Kaytr had been forbidden by his tutors to read books that only propagated lies in his mind. Victor’s death had made a liar and a rebel out of him. He would do anything for him, even though he would never know now.
As he searched for the book, he recalled the first time Victor stole food from the kitchen for him. Kaytr was being held in the library until he finished all his studies. It had been nearly four days at that point. But starving was much different than death. Victor hadn’t even trembled as his eyes turned black and bloody foam dripped down his mouth…
Kaytr paused when he reached the page titled “Bleeding Fae Draught.”
“Fae Curse,” he read aloud in a faint whisper. His long fingers traced the words on the page.
The words disappeared from his vision as some of the candles flickered out. He hadn’t realized how still his body had become. He touched the nearest candle holder, and they ignited once more. The words were illuminated with shadows like claws. Kaytr continued to read.
The Fae Curse is reserved only to the Fae who plot and murder one of their own kind—
He heard a creak and looked up from reading. Thin shadow figures stretched down the length of the room’s red carpets. Kaytr ducked behind a shelf and continued reading, knowing his time was running out.
Kibo, the first to discover this curse, also created the Bleeding Fae Draught. A draught in which the killer willingly puts his own blood into the concoction to poison his victim. No antidote is known.
Below these words was the author’s best interpretation of the directions and ingredients for making the draught. There was an underlined note at the bottom warning against it.
Footsteps echoed in the room near the direction Kaytr was tucked away. He tucked the book under his arm and crawled farther back into the library. Whoever had entered wasn’t interested in lighting the candles to guide their way. Knowing he was cornered, Kaytr opened the book again and scanned the previous pages.
Those who can see the Cursed Fae are known as the Blood Fae. For they see beyond the skin of the normal Fae through to their blood. They are also visited by victims. Once the Bleeding Fae Draught has been accomplished, the culprit loses their soul. The lack of essence is seen by the Blood Fae. It has been impossible to identify the Fae believed to be Blood Fae. Those who are cursed are usually the first to encounter them. One can only assume that the few who have been found have escaped the Cursed Fae’s grasps.
“I sent Antione after him. I thought it was best.” Amelie’s whisper split the silence from a few shelves away.
Her unspoken words hung in the air. What had she thought would come from her sending Antione?
Kaytr’s eyes rose from the pages of the book. He snapped it shut and tucked it into the inner pocket of his formal robes. Alerted by his noise, Amelie appeared out of the shadows just as Kaytr stood up. Her fair hair was falling in wild curls around her body, and her eyes were wide with confusion. After meeting his gaze, her expression became guarded as she smiled.
“Kaytr, what are you doing in here in the dark?” she asked.
One of the Fae guards stood next to her with a sour expression evident in his pursed lips.
“You know I come here often,” Kaytr said.
“I do know. Even so, at a time like this… Do you really think it was appropriate for a library visit?”
He saw how her face hung in exhaustion. It had only been a few hours, but it was like a light had died within her.
“Have you seen Antione?” she whispered, stepping towards him. Her hand outstretched as if she expected him to reach out and take her hands. “He was looking for you.”
“He’s in my room. He had a bit of an accident with my alchemy desk, I’m afraid.”
Amelie studied him. “What shall we do?” she asked.
“Do for what?” Kaytr asked with narrowed eyes.
“For your coronation, my love. We cannot be without a King—even for a day.”
Her voice was soft but emotionless. Maybe she was still in shock.
“A ball,” Kaytr said, enjoying her flinch at the words. He stood up straighter and wiped the dust from his sleeves. “A grand one. Bigger than tonight. Bigger than we’ve ever held.”
Kaytr walked by the guards and Amelie, without a glance towards their silver blades. A plan had started to form in his head. And his mind was swimming with the information he had read. Victor hadn’t been summoned by magic. He had appeared to him. Kaytr knew this now to be true. Before leaving them, he turned and faced Amelie.
“You thought I was special?” Kaytr asked.
Her eyes shifted, and she looked away.
“Answer me!” he demanded so viciously that the guards seized up and put hands on their hilts.
“It was why I took you,” she answered.
“Besides being afraid that you wouldn’t bear a son,” he added. Katyr turned away. “We’ll see how special I turn out to be.”
He left the group in the library, pulling the heavy doors closed behind him. Even as he made his way back up to his room, he could hear the bustle of the palace. The sun was starting to rise.
They wouldn’t waste any time in preparation.
Kaytr stopped as he passed by the kitchens again.
The help froze as they saw him.
“Whatever you made for last night’s feast, double it for tonight. Get all the help you can. This will be a night to remember.”
The kitchen staff stared at him with tight lips and worried expressions.
“Well, get going!” he barked and walked on. He could hear the pots and pans clanging against each other in anxious panic.
As Katyr entered his room, he saw that Antione had either been taken or gotten up and left. There was only a small stain of blood on the wooden floor. Linko was absent as well, though this wasn’t unusual. The panda came and went as he pleased.
After locking the door, Kaytr walked to his window and drew the curtains. Then he got to work. Kaytr poured over the pages of the forbidden book he had taken. He compared the written ingredients to those at his alchemy table. He knew what he was doing. The Bleeding Fae Draught be complicated for some, but he had been trained by the best of the Fae’s alchemists. He was made for this moment. Even so, the instructions were extensive and elaborate. They could take all day. As he worked, his promise to Victor kept him awake and alert. If there was ever a time he had to keep going, it was now.
Soon a very small boiling pot was spouting smoke into his face. He poured a vile of ink-like substance into the pot and the contents changed to a murky gray color. Kaytr glanced over at the knife on his bed. It would be different for Blood Fae. It had to be.
He only had to take a second to calculate the risk before picking up the knife and slicing a thin cut across his palm. He let the droplets of blood pour into the pot. The liquid turned clear as if it was only water. Katy took a flask from one of the desk drawers and poured the draught inside before corking it. A grin spread across his lips, despite the slight burning of his hand from both the cut and the heat of the potion.
Even if I don’t succeed, I’ll be with you, Victor. I don’t mind the curse. I’ve been cursed since the day I was born. I know this. And now it’ll be my turn to curse these Fae filth—
The door opened with a crack of wood splintering. Katyr stood in front of his alchemy table, slipping the vile into his pocket before Amelie walked in. Her hands were folded in front of her, holding his coronation robe, but she hadn’t looked up when she entered. Her dress was delicate and hung off her shoulders in a flourish of gold and black ribbons. Of mourning and celebration mixed together.
“How dare you use magic to enter my room,” Katyr said.
Amelie sniffed. “I’ve been calling for you. I thought you might want to attend your own coronation.”
Kaytr glanced through the crack in the curtains and saw that night had fallen once again. For a moment, he felt lightheaded. Could he actually pull this off?
“Leave,” Kaytr said. “I’ll be ready in a moment.”
Amelie moved back towards the door. “You might want to wash up as well. You look rather dreadful, I’m afraid.”
“I’ll wash up,” Kaytr said. “Have you seen Linko?”
Amelie paused in the doorway. “No, I haven’t. Things seem to come and go in this palace, though, don’t they?”
She walked out of his room then, leaving Kaytr feeling a mixture of unease and discomfort. Whatever was going through her head wasn’t to his benefit. That he was sure of.
Kaytr washed his face in the stone basin in his room and pulled his coronation robe over his head. When he caught his reflection in the glass of the window, gaunt eyes stared back at him.
Disgusted, he turned away and took a breath. There was still more of the draught in the pot. Amelie hadn’t even seemed to notice he was working on something. Kaytr pulled out another flask and poured the remaining content into it. Two flasks. Two Fae. If he needed to. It was time.
The chittering of the guests filled his ears before he saw anything. His skin crawled as he felt bile in the back of his throat. A combination of bitter dread and déjà vu. As he entered through the ballroom doors, he couldn’t believe he was in the same room as he had been the night before.
Tiny gold and black lanterns twinkled above his head. The room was packed with Fae, all of them with a drink in hand and mask over their eyes. If Kaytr had thought their clothes were elaborate before, he had been mistaken. If he had thought their behavior had been irrational before, he would have been wrong.
Fae slipped by him without even noticing who they had passed. Most of the Fae Elite were already knee-deep into the roasts and fine fruits. There were different human musicians tonight. These ones knew how to play their fine, wooden instruments. Antione was in the corner, drowning himself in Fae wine. Amelie was nowhere to be seen.
Only a few feet away from him was the man who had attacked him yesterday at the ball. He was as big as Kaytr remembered, bigger even, as he was standing straighter. Beside the man was a petite female Fae. Her hair was pale and limp. Like the man, the light around her didn’t seem to touch her, as if they were both shrouded in an aura of shadow.
Kaytr approached the long table and grabbed two goblets of wine, eyes never leaving the two Fae. In a single sweep of his hand, he poured contents of the flasks into each cup. He walked towards them with purpose, though they didn’t seem to notice him until he almost ran into them. Kaytr’s heart was beating rapidly. He tried to control his expression, but he knew it was something between wild and furious.
“I trust that you both are having a pleasant evening,” Kaytr said.
Both the male and female bowed as they realized who Kaytr was.
“Of course, my Prince,” the man said after a moment. “I—I wish to apologize for my actions the night before. They were inexcusable.”
The woman’s eyebrows narrowed at the man, but he strained to look only ahead.
Kaytr pretended not to notice. “It’s in the past now, my friend. But I see neither of you has a drink yet. Here, take these.”
He held the goblets out to the two Fae. The woman swirled the contents of the drink around, while the man held his still. Kaytr knew there was no possible way to sense the draught, but perhaps they were skeptical of any drink. He would wait for as long as he needed.
Sensing Kaytr was watching them, the man nudged the woman in the arm and drank from the cup. She proceeded to do the same. The contents stained her upper-lip pink.
“Finest of wines,” Kaytr said, but his eyes had shifted over to see Amelie consoling Antione.
He left the two Fae and pushed through the crowd to approach the Queen.
“It’s time,” Kaytr hissed, grabbing her arm. “Do it quickly.”
Amelie let Kaytr drag her to the front of the ballroom where the throne had been set up for Kaytr to sit in. Kaytr felt his blood run cold. The chair was covered in red fur. At the left arm of the throne, the stuffed head of Linko rested, his eyes glassy and vacant.
“What have you done?” Kaytr whispered.
The room was quiet as they realized the coronation was starting. Amelie circled him, a crown of twisted twigs in her hands. With every step her feet made against the tile floor, his heart skipped a beat. Her eyes studied him, a small smile on her lips.
“What have I done?” she asked.
He pressed his lips into a fine line.
“But you do not know what you’ve done,” Amelie continued.
“I’ve killed Victor’s murderers,” Kaytr said through his teeth. But even as he spoke it aloud, he knew it wasn’t true.
“No,” Amelie whispered. “You’ve killed Rowland’s murderers. You’ve killed your father and sister. Your birth father and sister.”
Kaytr’s skin was ice as chaos broke out at the other side of the ballroom. Two Fae were writhing on the ground, foam starting to bubble on their lips. But Kaytr could no longer feel what should have been pain or remorse.
Amelie placed the crown on Kaytr’s head. As she stepped back to admire him, she smiled.
Kaytr breathed in deeply, recognizing what he had mistaken for an aura of sorrow. The same darkness that surrounded his true father and sister surrounded Amelie as well.
“Why?” Kaytr whispered. “I’m not even your son.”
“You’re special. So much more special than anyone else will ever be.”
“You’re crazy.” He tried to take a step back, but Amelie grabbed his hands and pulled him close to her face.
“I killed Victor,” Amelie said, kissing both Kaytr’s hands. “Long live the Blood Fae.”
She faced the crowd of Fae, trapped between two writhing, poisoned bodies and two soulless, royal leaders.
“Long live,” Amelie repeated. “Long live.”
Read More Of Kristen’s Work At CornFieldsInLA.com