The darkness spread from the palace like a living thing, and even the most careless of the fae paused to take note and hide. As the shadows darkened around her the Arch Duchess of the Grey Grove, Grand Marquess of the Hinterlands, High Countess of the Dusk Forest, the Sister of the Dark King pursed her lips. Already nervous servants cringed, quickly hanging their heads and wringing twig-like fingers.
First her brother declined a gracious invitation to hunt. That was an annoyance in of itself. By her measure, it’d been decades since they’d saddled their narrow hoofed steeds to stalk the wilds and run down panicked mortals and monsters. And now, as the fury rolled from the blackhewn spires, he scared her quarry away.
Sharply cut skirts swirled around her bare feet as she left her expedition and wolfhounds. Rarely was the King’s ire felt so tangibly that it hung in the air. The last time she’d felt this rolling darkness they’d overtaken the Broken City before the next moonrise, conquering those who’d dared defy her brother.
The courtyard was empty, but glittering eyes in hidden corners noted her movements and averted themselves. Disgust turned her mouth, her brother employed more fear than fealty. Personally, she could never stomach such cowardice in subjects, but such contentions between the siblings were common.
The King was not in the training yards or his empty hall lit with shining balls of shadow. No one walked in the gardens or surveyed the forest from the walls. Only one place remained.
Unlike the mice who cowered in the cracks of the palace, she didn’t fear her brother’s storms. Neither of them cringed from strife. It was in their make. Even so, she paused before the arch of the war room. Her brother’s temper may not worry her, but his weakness for impulse and obsession did.
The bent boughs shifted at her whim, allowing her entrance into the chamber. It too was empty, but freshly. Maps and documents were half unrolled across the massive table. A shattered wine goblet and its contents spread over the floor. She stepped close to examine the maps. She frowned, recognizing the summer lands that held their bright inane cousins.
With deceptively delicate fingers she plucked a piece of parchment at random, glancing over the lineage of the seelie royalty. She froze. A hidden petal, now revealed beneath the page, showed up bright against aged maps and histories.
The velvet thing was unbruised and vibrant as the noonday sun. She dropped the page and picked up the petal. The rose it’d come from could never have grown in their lands, nor in the dull mortal worlds. Such things did not find their way into the dark lands unaided. The petal was a summer bloom.
The sight of it wormed its way through her calm. The color was truly beautiful, the specific crimson of first blood. She let it weigh heavily in her mind and eye for a moment before palming the soft thing away and leaving the chamber.