That first sensation pressed upon Frederich like ill-weighted cotton and sluggishness. He reached out, finding nothing to the touch. When he walked forward, it was wading through sludge and muck. Swallowing thickly, he pondered how he had come to this moment in time and found he couldn’t particularly remember. After a calm breath, he paced backward only to find a wall blocking him.
Alright, don’t panic, he reassured himself. Certainly a memory or an explanation to where this place was would arise.
Instead, like lighting, a silver streak flitted past him with a gulp and a gasp. It was vibrant and dazzling, leaving a steel song in its wake. Frederich’s teeth clenched as the sound of metal grated against his ears. But when the blade swung past him, it lit up the area for just a moment—enough for him to make out the outline of a forest and a pavilion before him. He chased after the flying weapon.
If there was a sword, then surely there was a swordsman.
Wait! He reached for the sword handle, hand closing around the hilt.
Electricity fizzed through his hand and up his arm as if burned. He released the weapon—a sleek and elegant rapier, with a guard shaped in a decorative yet still protective peony—and it sped away as if possessed by a mind of its own.
The sound of another pair of footsteps sloshed through the darkness. “What are you doing?” The voice was not unkind but it did not hold any warmth either.
Suddenly, the sword stilled and was held at the ready.
I’m lost, Frederich acquiesced.
A moment’s pause stretched for a seeming eternity before the voice decided, “You shouldn’t be here.”
Where is here? He asked.
“It’s not important. You realize you’re dreaming, right?” The voice had a note of incredulity, “Just wake up.”
Frederich blinked. A dream?
The swordsman brandished their blade and in that quick flash, Frederich caught sight of a shimmering veil covering their face. It was red like ruby.
“Get out. Now.”
Frederich’s face hit the desk with a loud bang, and all the others in the room burst out laughing. In his peripheral vision, he caught sight of Trevor covering his mouth to hide the snickers that were still plainly visible. Embarrassment flushed through his face and Frederich tried to ignore the snide looks tossed to him by the other Scholars. One of the current Master Scholars approached his desk with a distasteful look on her lips.
“Is the material boring you, Scholar Frederich?” She demanded with a lifted brow.
“Not at all, master,” he said quickly, opening the closest scroll of poetry. “It’s been quite a productive day of copying.”
The Master Scholar smoothed out the length of her cape, the indigo velvet flattening into a darker shade as she did so. “So interesting that you fell asleep?”
He gave up and hung his head in defeat. “It won’t happen again.”
“I should hope not. You’re a year away from being a Master yourself. Don’t fall behind.” The Master Scholar turned sharply on her toe and addressed everyone in the library. “There’ll be a visit from the Royals today—within the hour, as a matter of fact. Be on your best behavior and try to make it seem like my tax money is paying something worthwhile. None of this lollying about.”
The Scholars all hushed, a palpable grey atmosphere heavy among all of them now. Most returned to reading and copying scripts. She left with a swirl of her skirts and the clack of her heels, disappearing among the rows of books.
Trevor leaned over in his seat to toss a stupid grin. “Sleeping on the job? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were picking up bad habits from me.”
“It’s a wonder you’re a Scholar, Trev.” Frederich rolled his eyes and reached for a quill—cleaning the nib of old crust before dipping it into his inkwell.
“It pays, doesn’t it?”
“Of course that’s why you’re here.”
Trevor scoffed. “Do you really think any of us are here for a grandiose reason like the pursuit of knowledge or some stupid swill along those lines? You’re not even here for that.”
A Scholar from the front row turned and shushed them along with a harsh look.
Both Trevor and Frederich waved them nonchalantly.
“It pays the taxes,” Frederich sighed. “I think I see our landlord now more than ever before, collecting his dues and the king’s.”
“Ugh, Royals. Speaking of, guess we’ll have to live with staring at their snobby little snouts while they peruse the library. Who do you think it’ll be? The Crown Princess Grimhildis is the only one who visits often enough, but perhaps it’s someone new.”
Frederich began the slow process of tuning out Trevor and copying his scripts for the day. He was one of the leading Scholars for copying the kingdom’s literature—a lucky opportunity due to his calligraphy being nearly unparalleled. The boon of a steady hand.
“What if…” Trevor’s voice trailed off and hushed.
Once again the atmosphere of the library darkened.
Trevor’s head ducked down, a wide-eyed look plastered to his face as he feigned intense reading through a booklet.
Frederich glanced up to watch a person with long, wild hair enter the library. Their body was covered from shoulder to toe with a black and red cloak, every now and then a translucent red skirt and a velvet underskirt fluttered around their legs as they walked. Their gold eyes were trained forward, bright and luminous against their dark skin while the rest of their face was hidden behind a red veil hanging at the bridge of their nose.
Everyone in the library inhaled at once and held their breath.
It was the cursed heir.
In the kingdom of Reyk, seven children had been born to the king and queen. Among the seven, two had been touched by creatures known as the Celestials—all withstanding and all encompassing entities that existed in every plane and every time.
The Crown Princess, Grimhildis, had been blessed by the Celestial Av. Known throughout the world as a Celestial of rebirth and steadfastness, it gifted all children it touched with foresight of good things to come. Beautiful prophecy and hope abound.
But then there was the seventh heir, the youngest, cursed by the Celestial known as Ku. Ku was the darkness between stars, an overbearing entity that damned all its victims with strength of unparalleled magnitude and calamity in their footsteps. Those that found themselves in the children of Ku’s company did not last long, victim to either a violent death or fallen to the ill luck that chased the children of Ku like lightning after thunder.
Thus those in the library waited anxiously for the cursed heir to leave, begging for no misfortune to fall upon them.
Except for Frederich.
He sighed and looked around for the Master Scholar who had yet to make an appearance. The fact that no one had gone to greet the seventh highness looked incredibly poor on behalf of the Scholar community. Letting archaic beliefs like the Celestials rule their minds with fear was a tragedy for learned people like themselves. Tying back his hair with a ribbon, Frederich stood and approached the Royal.
Trevor hissed a warning through gritted teeth. He ignored it, more annoyed than anything that the Master Scholar had yet to return. She had probably planned this, since most people would be unwilling to greet the heir and thus leave them to their own devices.
“Welcome, Princess…” He petered off when icy gold eyes glared stoutly at him. He hadn’t quite been sure how to address them due to a nixed proclamation a few years back. He tried again. “Highness?”
The gaze eased.
He nodded. “Welcome highness Radhildur. The hour’s Master Scholar is attending to other matters right now. May I be of assistance in her stead?”
Radhildur responded, their voice carrying a surprising soft warmth that severely contrasted their vengeful look. “The previous archived prophecies, I’m looking for those.”
“Allow me to lead you then.” Frederich said.
They nodded and swept their hand out for him to lead the way. The gesture brushed the sides of their cloak open, revealing their garb underneath…
…And the silver rapier with the peony guard sheathed at their waist.
“Your sword,” Frederich said without thinking. “I’ve seen it before.”
There was a flash of recognition in Radhildur’s eyes and their hand fell to the hilt of their sword, everything hidden behind the safety of the cloak again.
A sense of dread, that did not stem from a meaningless superstition, filled him. He had a feeling that was no idle threat. He cleared his throat. “Follow me, please, your highness.”