UNRAVELING WORLDS

VALEK


CHAPTER 1

In some small corner of my mind, I knew I must be dreaming. But, because the situation seemed so real, I quickly gave up on that hope. I was in the King's throne room—hiding, preparing myself to make the final move in order to end the monarchy. I stayed in place for what seemed like hours, but was in reality only a few minutes—if not seconds. Finally, the occupants of the throne room started to file out, leaving my target alone and unprepared. I let myself drop from the ceiling to land in front of him and drove my knife into his chest without a moment's hesitation. Unfortunately, the King moved and I was unable to reach his heart with my first strike. However, judging from the blood that soaked his tunic, I knew that he would soon meet his end. I felt a weak brush of magic against my arm as he prepared to fight back—I practically purred in anticipation. Instead, all I got was a curse, a few words that wouldn't—couldn't harm me.

"My death shall forever mark you. You will have the stain of my blood on your soul for all eternity and carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Your only companion to the grave shall be the guilt of my murder and it will eat at you till there is nothing left of your corpse but dust." He paused, gathering his last breath and his voice faded to a dry whisper, "As soon as you find her, you will lose her. And there will be nothing you will be able to do."

I woke gasping. The last part of the King's curse had never meant much to me—it had almost been forgotten—but now, as I thought about it, it seemed to have a hidden definition. Sure that I wouldn't get anymore sleep that night; I rolled his last words around my mind, trying to make sense of them. After a few minutes though, I still had no idea what they could mean. Sighing, I glanced at Yelena. She appeared peaceful, but her thin eyebrows were pinched together, as if she were concentrating very hard on something.

Slowly, being careful not to jostle her, I got up, gathered my things and made my way to the baths. With at least three hours left till dawn, they were deserted. Not wanting to leave Yelena alone for too long, I tried to be as quick as possible. I was hoping to calm myself down and to shake the nightmare off. Of course, as always, I figured everything out with the worst timing.

The realisation hit me hard. I had to clamp my teeth and lips together to keep from screaming aloud. I moved quickly then—the King's curse didn't affect me personally, it was about Yelena. As usual, as soon as I realized there was danger, my sixth sense turned. I don't know what I was looking for, maybe I was expecting the dead King to burst from some hiding place to attack me, but I saw nothing.

When I arrived at my suite, I found Yelena searching through some papers on the couch. She looked up at the sound of the door closing behind me.

"Where were you?" Her eyes were locked on my figure.

"I couldn't sleep. What are you doing awake?"

Avoiding my question, Yelena's green eyes scanned me, searching for some sign that I might be lying. When she found nothing, her gaze dropped to the papers laid out in front of her. Like an idiot, I stood there staring at her, she still left me tongue-tied.

I remembered the first time we had met. I truly hadn't been surprised to find out the next food taster would be woman. It was Yelena I hadn't expected. From that first moment she had caught my attention. When she came back the next day, after the trial, I was astonished to see a whole different person. I had to admit that I had never looked at a woman as closely as I did at her. The soft green eyes were still the feature I couldn't look at for too long if wanted to be able to produce a coherent sentence afterwards.

I shook my head, 'Focus Valek,' I thought to myself. I had gotten caught up in her beauty again. I had to tell her about the curse that had been thrust upon her without her knowledge. I took a breath to start talking, only to find out I didn't have the courage to even start. What had the King meant; "As soon as you find her...?" I had been with Yelena for over six years now and I still hadn't lost her. I frowned. This was an impossible riddle. It's not as if I could ask the King what he had meant—and even if I could, it's not as if he would tell me. I was suddenly aware of someone talking to me.

"...listening to me Valek?" Yelena's voice cut through the thick fog of thoughts circling in my mind.

"I'm sorry what?"

"That's what I thought," she sighed.

Yelena got up and walked up to me. When she approached, I automatically pulled her into my arms. Gently, I brought her lips to mine, but I could tell her heart wasn't in the kiss as she pulled away to look at me.

"Something's wrong." It wasn't a question.

My emotions must not have been as well hidden as I thought they were. Perhaps it was just Yelena. I constantly felt like she could see through me. I swallowed, and concentrating on keeping my voice neutral, I gave her an answer.

"What in the world could be wrong love? You're going to be here for a whole three weeks," I didn't have to pretend to be enthusiastic about the last part, I was overjoyed.

"Um..." she swallowed, looking guilty, "Remember when you asked me why I wasn't asleep?"

"Yes," I said cautiously. I knew what would come next.

"Well, Leif contacted me and told me my presence was requested at an emergency council meeting. I'm leaving in two days."

I walked around the castle dazed. Ari and Janco seemed to notice I was more irritable than usual and they stayed out of my way. I fought soldiers in training yard, and even found a new member for my corps, but I couldn't place the reason for my distraction. I hadn't had the courage to tell Yelena about my dream. Maybe that was the reason that I was more worried about her than usual, or perhaps it was something else. I was jumpy and I was having weird dreams about my past, though it was the most recent that made my decision.

I was sitting in my family house—this confirmed my suspicions about dreaming, my father hated me and I hadn't set foot there in twenty-one years. There was a knock on the door and my brother Lucian entered the kitchen. He sat across from me at the table and reached over to ruffle my hair as he had often done when I was a boy. When I focussed on his face, it started morphing until it resembled the King's. I wanted to scream, but my dream state prevented me from making a sound. He opened his mouth and said in a friendly voice, "Hello Valek." He unsheathed his sword and advanced it towards my heart. I tried to move, but I stayed frozen in place despite my efforts. The sword plunged into my chest.

I woke with the terrible sensation that I was falling. Gasping, I sat up in bed. My skin was clammy with sweat and I had a feeling something was wrong. I hated that. It was the feeling I got when Yelena was in danger. I cursed as I fell out of bed. I sat up among the covers, and not bothering to get off the floor I connected with Yelena. This was very hard to do and I always felt exhausted afterwards. Usually, when I reached Yelena's mind, she was on the verge of blacking out, hurt or in a life threatening situation. This time, as I peered out of her eyes, I saw Mara bustling around in the kitchen. Daylight poured through the windows, making her honey brown curls gleam.

Do you need help love? I thought to Yelena.

Yelena jumped, almost falling out of her chair. Valek? What are you doing in my mind? I'm perfectly safe.

I thought you were in trouble.

I-I'm fine. You're being paranoid.

She was struggling to hide an undercurrent to her thoughts that I couldn't quite make out. Something that involved me as much as her, I could tell that much. I didn't have time to investigate further. I felt my energy slipping away by the second. Before I completely left her mind, Yelena put her face in her hands and started to sob. The sound was just as bad as it had been when she had told me about Reyad's abuse. My arms itched to hold her, to promise her that everything was alright, but I collapsed onto the floor. There was definitely something wrong, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I would probably be confined to bed for three days, the medic being strict about her patients' welfare. I heard a knock on the door, but I couldn't even get up to answer it. The already dark room went black as I lost consciousness.