Strike at Midnight(2)

His screams were going to attract the attention of the whole household at this rate, and I needed to get out of there before someone came. Shock didn’t even register, as the action I needed to take was as clear as crystal.

I didn’t think about where I would run to. I didn’t think about leaving the only home I had ever known. I didn’t even think at that moment that I might have killed a man. All I could think about was one thing…



Once Upon a Time

Every time I tried to move in this stupid gown I wore, it made my insides get up close and personal.

It was a beautiful dress—I had to give the dressmaker that—but it was also a machination of terror.

The pale blue diamanté-finished gown had impressed even me when I went to pick it up, but now I know that that had been its way of reeling me in, like a predator to its prey.

The taffeta stuffed underneath the skirt had started to scratch at my legs like a hundred kittens the longer I wore it, and it made me look like a puppet when I walked. It didn’t help that I had a sheathed dagger tucked into my stocking suspenders, but that was no excuse.

Why women subjected themselves to such masochism on a regular basis, I would never know. And if one more male—supposed to be a damn gentleman—stared at my cleavage, all hell was going to break loose.

Operating undercover as a lady of nobility was not fun. My underwear was riding up my ass, and the glass slippers on my feet were starting to pinch. Not to mention that I had been subjected to far too many introductions with social predators disguised as actual people.

The ballroom was full of colorfully dressed individuals in front of me who fit here like a second skin. They pranced and bowed and curtsied their way through the evening, all while trying to hide the condemnation in their eyes with pretty words. It made me want to retch up my breakfast.

Grin and bear it. That was all I had to do, seeing as how my client had been kind enough to secure me an invite to the Royal Castle—and give me an advance on the dress.

A ball was hosted almost every other week for one reason or another, and it had been another place to try and track down the Duke of York—my whole reason for being here.

Once a social man, the duke had raised a few questions when he had suddenly retreated from public view. Some wondered if anything had happened to him, but no one had actually done anything about it. At least not until his friend, Sir Raymond, had come knocking on my door.

Sir Raymond Kane was a Knight of the First Order of the Kingdom of Carena. He was the friend of the duke who had raised the alarm to the authorities that something wasn’t right, but they hadn’t wanted to know. Not that I was surprised. The local law-enforcement officers of Carena were a mixture of somnolent ex-militia who could barely govern themselves—let alone a kingdom—and they only acted when they had to. According to their rule book, that wasn’t very often. They liked to throw their weight and badge around every now and again, but they didn’t like to get their hands dirty.

The Kingdom of Carena was a place my father had often traveled to, and one he had fondly spoken about when he returned from his travels. He had said it was a kingdom of beauty and magic, and it was the place I had found myself heading toward when I had fled all those years ago.

It had been a crazy decision looking back seeing as it had been one hell of a trek and I almost hadn’t made it, but he had been right about the beauty and magic of the place. On the surface at least.

The kingdom was a sight to behold upon entry to these lands, with the green rolling hills and peaks of the Royal Castle that dominated the landscape. But as you delved more deeply into it, you would find that the segregation of the people didn’t only occur in the main city that spanned across half of Carena. Those with money looked down upon those who had none, and those with no money fought hard to find a living that could put food in their bellies each month. It didn’t matter if you came from the city or the village. Money was money.

The fairies, the trolls, the giants—and you name it—had all been banished to the outskirts of Carena a long time ago. It was the result of a history where all the magical races had suffered because of those who had abused their own power. It had instilled fear in the masses of the non-magical bearers and nurtured their ignorance, something that still held today under the current law.

Many of the magical races had left and made their homes in the large woodland that formed a natural defense between Carena and neighboring kingdoms. There was also a rumor that many of the races had fled back to their true home known as The Legend of the Lake, but no one had been brave enough to go and find out. The place was way off track for anyone not wanting to be fodder for those who had been cast out of the kingdom, and if anyone had been brave enough to venture out there, they hadn’t come back to tell the tale.

It was the rich and those who married into money who laid down the law here, and the half-assed law-enforcement officers knew who to please in regards to who paid their salary each month. Hence why my business could be so profitable, and why Sir Raymond had come to me.

For a renegade hunter, my rates were good. My reputation, on the other hand, was a little bit sketchy.

I had pissed a few individuals off in the past because I had no patience for rude or ignorant people. Even if those rude or ignorant people were paying customers. When people came to me, I tended to be the last resort, but my patrons couldn’t deny that I got the job done—no matter the cost. Like wearing this gown, for example. Dresses didn’t usually do it for me, and I certainly didn’t make a habit of bathing in rose-scented bathwater. But tonight I had made an effort to ensure I could enter the ball without raising suspicion.

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