Altiere scribbled his notes down on the handmade paper, careful not to let any of the ink spill off of the page. Sometimes it dribbled if he applied too much pressure of the pen, but that was not too often. “Are you so deep in thought once again?” An enchanting voice asked. She leaned against the door frame, watching Altiere etch his words into the parchment.
“What are you doing here, Amanda?” Altiere asked, not bothering to look up from the page. “I will not take you up on your offer. I am no blasphemous lecher.”
Amanda let out a sultry laugh that shook Altiere to his core. He wanted to pounce on her in this moment and taste her delicious human blood, but he knew there would be no place for him with the other supernaturals anymore. Elisha would no longer keep him around. “As I said before, Elisha does not need to know. I am asking you for your help and in return…” She approached him, running her finger down his slightly exposed chest. “I’ll give you whatever you’d like. As Elisha will be able to tell you, I’m a hit with the supernaturals.”
“Enough, I will not be taken by the charms of a human.” Altiere stood. “I am not going to do something that will ultimately make my goal end in failure. What you are looking for, I cannot find. I do not understand what kind of power you think I possess.”
“More than Elisha, and we both know that!” Amanda cried. “If you will not have me, I can give you something much more valuable. I can make you a leader. Whatever it is you are trying to accomplish will be much easier with a team of supernaturals behind you. I can arrange that, we simply need to get rid of Elisha.”
“To think that marriage was once based in love,” Altiere scoffed. “Elisha has drawn the short stick of the bunch with you.”
“I am a beautiful human commodity, he got everything he wanted. You can too. Remember that.” Amanda leaned in close to him, placing a kiss on his cheek before heading out of the room.
“That woman is a devil in sheep’s clothing,” Altiere muttered to himself as he watched her sway her hips.
Chasity bounced on her heels, a sense of nervousness washing over her. “Father, I cannot marry the man you have chosen for me.”
“He is a fine bachelor, with attributes unmatched. Not only is he good looking and will produce a handsome heir, he has money and comes from a well known family. We would have to be daft to turn down his proposal. Your dowry has already been procured.”
“Yes, father. I understand that. But, I do not love Reginald. My heart beats for another. Someone you will never approve of,” She said, reaching up to clasp her heart.
“Then why bring it up now, child? You will not be disgracing our name by turning down Reginald. He is to be your betrothed, or you will no longer have a place in this family.”
“Then I am to run away!” Chasity cried, stomping her foot into the ground. “My beloved is more important to me than all of yours and Reginald’s riches combined!”
“Where will a woman be able to go with a man who cannot provide for her? You will have no home, but a want and need for everything. Reginald will provide for you.”
“I do not care, Father. We will find a way! There is always going to be a way.” Chasity turned on her heels and ran out of her family’s estate.
Sophina lowered her head, ducking beneath Dionysus’ gaze. “Have you never ridden a horse before?” He mused, a smirk dancing on his lips.
“No!” She shrieked, crossing her arms over her chest defiantly. “I was never expected to leave my palace until I was married. I do not know how to do a lot of things.”
“Yet, you found your way to clan Gray pretty easily,” Dionysus said. “How is that?”
“I’ve sneaked out before,” Sophina replied. “Just to be in nature, among the trees and flowers. But I could just walk to the forest. This is entirely new to me. These lower lands are a marvel. Halina pales in comparison.”
“You think so?” Dionysus asked. “The people here wouldn’t agree with you. Places like Halina and Auguria are heights to be reached in the eyes of the working class. I too, yearned to be part of that world.”
“And now you are,” Sophina said. “Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Rainbows and butterflies? Do you like being kept hidden, a secret because of the way you look and the point of your ears?”
“I just do as I’m told.” Dionysus held his hand out to Sophina for her to take it. “Come along, we’ll never get to Auguria if you don’t actually mount the horse.”
Sophina noticed how Dionysus had shifted his attention away from her question and frowned. Still, she took his hand and let the man hoist her up onto the horse. “Ah!” She let out a shriek as the horse beneath her whinnied.
Sophina felt Dionysus apply light pressure to her back, securing her place. “Hey now,” He said softly. “Don’t be alarmed. The horse is just reacting to you is all.”
“Oh…” Sophina mumbled, her cheeks flaming. “I knew that.”
“Did you now?” Dionysus wore that same happy smile. He took a step back and placed his arms up in the air. “Okay. I’m walking to my horse now.”
“Okay,” Sophina replied. “I’m not scared. I’m brave. I can ride this…ah!” The horse took a step forward and Sophina shook her head violently. “I want off! I can’t do this!”
Dionysus didn’t question the girl. Instead, he helped her down gently. “Okay, ride on the front of my horse with me. I promise nothing will happen to you. You won’t fall off.”
“And you’re promising me this?” Sophina exclaimed. “I won’t fall off the horse and break my neck?”
“You’ll be fine,” Dionysus assured her. “I promise. I only hope you trust my word.”
Sophina shut her eyes and let the air caress her skin. Dionysus was an expert horseback rider. She felt completely safe with his arm loosely around her. “Enjoying the ride?” Dionysus asked.
Sophina’s face heated up once again, this time because she hadn’t realized how close to her Dionysus really was. She could feel his breath on her neck as he leaned in closer to talk to her. “It’s really nice. I like the wind in my hair. I feel…free?”
“Yeah, it is liberating, isn’t it? Now, imagine when it’s just you and your horse trotting through the forest. You can hear the crickets chirping and the birds singing. It’s paradise.” She felt the rumble of his voice. A feeling she quite liked. Back at the castle, the only men Sophina was allowed to meet with were those approved by Lady Bethany and her father. There were very few and very traditional. Those men cared for customs more than they did about the people they interacted with. Dionysus was different. He talked to her as if they were equals. “Sophina?”
“Yes?” She asked, leaning back into Dionysus’ arms. She thought she’d feel him tense up, but he didn’t. Instead, his loose grip around her tightened now that he had her permission to touch her. He was a gentleman, she surmised. A simple test he had passed.
“I hope that you find a life where you are able to be yourself. With no worries about who or what is watching. You’re a beautiful girl with a vibrant personality that’s going to waste following some royal customs. We’re almost to Auguria, so it is now that you should start thinking about the life you want. Unfortunately in the world we live in, you cannot both be royalty and free. Which life do you prefer? Princess, or pauper?”
“I…I don’t know,” Sophina murmured. But she did know. She’d give up everything to ride on this horse again with Dionysus. For, in this exact moment she felt free and her freedom meant more to her than the wishes of her family. Did that make her selfish for choosing herself over the people of Halina and Auguria? She didn’t think so, because as a woman she’d have no power regardless. There would be no change, Dragos would have all the power.
“I think you do know what you want,” Dionysus said. “I look forward to seeing what you do with that feeling. Will you take hold of your destiny, or live out someone else’s?” She felt his hair brush against her shoulder as he shook his head. “I must sound strange. I just see the potential of people, and I don’t want them to be held back by some stupid ineffective rules.”
“I…” But Sophina was silenced when she saw the large gate with two guards standing by. They were finally in Auguria, and she’d have to face both Dragos and Briella head on.
Lavina knelt by the weak boy, pushing his hair away from his sweating forehead. “Oh, Timmy. You know what happens when you’re in the sunlight. Why did you go outside?”
“I thought that because I was underneath a tree, that the sun couldn’t touch me,” Timothy replied, smiling up weakly at his older sister. “Turns out that natural light makes me sick, even if I’m in the shade.”
“Why did you even try to go outside without telling anyone?” Lavina cried. “It’s very dangerous! What if we couldn’t get to you in time and you did something worse than pass out?”
“I wanted to see her go,” Timothy said quietly, shutting his eyes. “She looked so pretty and graceful on that horse. She looked…happy. I just wanted to see her be happy, and experience the world.”
“You mean Sophina?” Lavina asked, realization clouding her eyes. “Where has she gone?”
“She’s a princess, you know.” Timothy struggled to sit up but was promptly pushed down by his sister with an angry gaze. “Never got to see the outside world, like me. Except, now she finally gets to. So, I wanted to see.”
“Where has she gone, Timmy?” Lavina asked again, this time more forcefully. “Where is she?”
“Is she not allowed to leave, sister?” Timothy asked. “I was under the impression that she was a free woman.”
“Don’t change the subject,” Lavina all but growled. “I don’t want her going to them. The vampires.”
“She isn’t at all curious about their kind,” Timothy assured his older sister. “She went home to sort out some family problems. I envy her. She gets to confront the think which binds her and break the shackles. I can’t. What plagues me is…ethereal.”
“Stop it.” Lavina reached over and handed him the cup of water she had made for him. “The village mage concocted the spell for you. So, whatever it is that you think is bothering you, I assure you it isn’t possible. No supernatural forces are in play. You simply have a disease. We will find a cure.”
“The cure is to listen to the calling. It isn’t a delusion. It’s real,” Timothy argued. “I hear it very loud sometimes. It is calling for me. But how can I face it if I cannot leave this room? I often wonder this.”
“I think you need more rest,” Lavina replied. “Please, get some rest.”
“You’re just as afraid as I am,” Timothy told her, reaching out and curling his thin fingers around hers. “Because you know that you might have to ask the person you hate more than anything about how to cure this. How to make the voices stop.”
Lavina placed a kiss on his forehead. “The voices Ralvena heard in her head were nothing more than whispers in the night. It is the same with you. You have not been touched, simply delusioned from your condition.”
“Say what you will sister,” Timothy mumbled. “But I know what I hear. Snickers, sneers and malformed words belonging to a language I have never heard before. Yet, you don’t believe me. Trust me, dear sister. Please, I beg of thee.”
“I…” Lavina let out a strangled cry of desperation. “Is it true? Really really true? How long have you been hearing this voice?”
“My whole life,” Timothy admitted with a simple lull of his shoulders. “That’s how I know it is real. I watch Sophina and I realize that she is happy. I want that too, but this voice…”
“Tell me when it occurs again!” Lavina said sharply, jumping to her feet. “I will not allow you to be tortured any longer, but I need to know what we’re up against.”
“It is not a delusion, sister. I swear it!” Timothy exclaimed. “I swear it. Trust me, please.”
“I….” She bit her lip, hoping it really was all an illusion. But if it wasn’t, and it had something to do with a supernatural influence, she had to see him and she would need to swallow all her pride. “I place all me trust in you, brother.”