“Can you believe how big this palace is?” Enlai murmured as he looked around the beautifully decorated palace. Maids and servants were rushing around, their faces twisted in anxiety as they worked, a spring in their steps at having the honor to work in the Royal Palace. The Palace was exquisite—gold and silver tapestries hanging on the walls, thick rugs of various colors, polished ebony floors, gleaming vases and candle holders, and richly decorated doors and walls. Every detail in the palace was meant to signify that it had been built by the richest of the rich, the most privileged. It was odd to think that we—commoners—had been given the opportunity to see it.
“I know,” I murmured, walking along the hallway. My eyes darted to the servants running toward us. Some of them were pale faced, their eyes wide as they stumbled out of a certain hallway. My brows bunched together as I glanced toward it, wondering what they were running from. But I was soon distracted when I glanced back at Enlai. “I can’t believe that Daiyu is going to marry the Emperor!” I said excitedly. “She’s going to be the Empress! Can you believe it?”
My younger brother shook his head. We were the youngest of the family, Enlai being fourteen while I was fifteen. When Daiyu had been taken away by soldiers ordering her to participate in the Emperor’s selection for a concubine, nobody in the family thought she would be chosen. It was even more surprising when she was selected not only as his concubine, but his Empress. It was the greatest honor that could have ever befallen our poor family. Father had nearly cried in shock, while Mother muttered endlessly, wondering how Daiyu had managed such a feat. The fearsome and ruthless Drakkon Meilin had chosen our sister.
I looked down at my plain hanfu. It wasn’t much of anything and it had been cleaned so much that it had lost its original soft blue color and morphed into the gray that it was now. It was rough against my skin and as sad as it was, it was my best dress. The Emperor had arranged for us to receive new clothing, but we hadn’t received anything yet. Besides, even if we did, did we really deserve such finery? What had we done to deserve such a thing? It was crazy to think a poor farmer’s daughter would become an Empress of the empire.
I ran my fingers over the material, a soft smile tugging on my lips. “Soon enough, we won’t have to worry about meals or fixing old clothes. We’ll live in luxury. Isn’t that crazy, Enlai? How many people in the village laughed at Daiyu for being un-marriageable? How many of them questioned her virtue and said all those horrible things about her honor? How many people had threw insults at her for being so old, pretty, and yet not married? Now look at her.” I smiled smugly. Daiyu was too sweet to be shut in the house all day and amount to nothing. There were so many in the village that didn’t like her because they thought she was tainted by Heng, her previous lover, and that she was promiscuous. “She’s going to be the Empress! The Empress!
Enlai bobbed his head vigorously. “I know! Those kids and stupid older people have finally learned their lesson. I can still remember their faces when the Imperial soldiers came to our village to tell them that Daiyu was chosen as the wife of the Emperor. Remember old man Fu’s face? His eyes were about to pop from their sockets!”
When the soldiers had come, bearing the insignia of a dragon, we knew at that instant that it was the Imperial soldiers. We had been scared that something was going to happen, but when the soldier flipped out a scroll and announced to the whole village that Yin Daiyu from the Yin family was to be the Empress and wife of Drakkon Meilin, the entire village had lost it. Father had almost collapsed from shock, Mother couldn’t believe it, and the rest of my siblings—including me—had only gawked as if we couldn’t believe our ears. Even now I could still remember the faces of those women that had always laughed at my sister and our family. “Drakkon has honored us,” I said softly. “The Emperor has honored our family.”
“He has—” Enlai’s words were cut off as he made a choking sound, his eyes enlarging as he stared at something in the distance. I slowly turned my head towards the corner of the hallway the maids had cleared away from earlier. A boy with silver hair and short horns was ambling towards us, his eyes cast down at his arms. The sleeves of his tunic were yanked up to his elbows, blood drenching his bare, pale arms. Black markings swirled around his skin, contrasting deeply with his naturally pale coloring. His eyes flicked up and met with mine.
Never before had I seen a pair of eyes as dangerous and terrifying as his. The whites of his eyes were black while his irises were a red, bloody color. A smatter of blood streaked his cheek and dripped down to his neck, and it didn’t look like his blood. His elbows were lathered with the blood and his face was a blank mask. Lethality and darkness hung onto him like a cloak, hungrily eating away at whatever life filled his body.
My mouth went dry and my legs shook as I took a step back. I had seen him briefly before when we had seen Daiyu for the first time in the palace. I hadn’t gotten a good look at him but I had seen that he was drenched in blood then, just as he was now. This time, however, his hardened gaze was pinpointed at me. I could barely breathe—it felt like I was suffocating.
Enlai held onto the wall for support, his entire body trembling at the sight of the strange boy. My legs quivered like a leaf in the wind, my mind blanking out as fear filled me. My fingers curled into fists and I grabbed onto my elbows, my eyes widening. The horns, the silver hair, the dangerous eyes—he was a demon. A demon. A creature of darkness and power. A creature born from evil. A creature of madness, arrogance, and raw power.
“A-A-A demon,” Enlai stuttered.
The demon cocked his head to the side to stare at my younger brother. His expressionless face didn’t slip as he took another step down the hall. He flexed his fingers, flecks of blood flicking against the spotless ground in tiny freckle-like dots on the gold and red colored carpet. One hand had more blood than the other, coating his pale skin in red. He didn’t seem fazed by it and instead stared at Enlai. My brother, in turn, took a step back.
“Lan . . . Fen?” the demon whispered, tearing his gaze away from my younger brother and instead looking at me. The red and black of his eyes froze me to the spot and I inhaled sharply, my breath feeling as if it had been sucked out of me. I couldn’t remember if my lungs had ever worked properly before, or if my heart had ever beat as quickly as it did now in my fear-induced horror. “You are Lanfen? Empress’s sister?”
My heart felt like it would explode out of my chest. Fear colored me white and I took a shaky step back, my breathing suddenly becoming very rapid. “Who are you?” I whispered. Tears burned the corners of my eyes as I watched a drop of blood trickle from his fingertip to stain a gold section of the carpet.
“I . . . I’m Remus—”
“Stay away,” I cried as he took another step forward. The demon, Remus, hesitated and blinked slowly. He opened his mouth to say something but stopped himself. Something flickered in his eyes and he slowly backtracked. His shoulders dropped but his expression remained somewhat blank. He stared down at his feet, his silver hair obscuring his face. “Enlai, let’s go,” I managed to blurt out as I spun on my heels. My hands shook as I took my brother’s cold hand in mine. Together, we quickly ran as fast as we could.
Demons truly were terrifying.
I almost choked on fear when the hype was over. I let go of Enlai’s hand and grabbed onto the wall, my breathing heaving out of me. My knees buckled and I sank to the ground, and my eyes widened in horror and terror. I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself. We had run a decent amount and had distanced ourselves from the demon. Everyone around me blurred as I squeezed my eyes shut.
His eyes terrified me the most. Those deadened and evil eyes. So much darkness hung onto him that I couldn’t stop from shaking and tearing up.