Chapter 10

 H.M. Ward

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The following sunrise, things at the palace went crazy. The new dusting of snow covered the events from the day before, but Cassie knew too much. She remembered the King entering her room and dragging her from her bed the night before. It had taken forever for her to drift off to sleep. Kahli hadn't returned and neither had her other roommates. Every single one of them went to the King's chambers and didn't come back.
Cole found his sister as early as possible, and beckoned her into the main sitting area. The white couches were empty. The drapes covering the windows were pulled back, revealing the early morning sunlight. It poured into the room giving the illusion that it wasn't freezing cold outside. At one time the world was a beautiful place. At one time there were seasons and trees and life. Now everything was a glittering tomb.
Her brother was dressed neatly, as usual. Cassie barely had time to pull on a pair of jeans and a sweater. She was always cold, always shivering. As they sat, she wrung her fingers, twisting them in her hands trying to get warm. Cole watched her, and when she didn't stop, he pulled out a pair of thin gloves from his pocket. He handed them to her. Cassie gratefully accepted them and slid the fabric over her hands. They were instantly warmer.
"Thank you," she said. "You always know what to do."
"I'm not so sure, this time, Cass." In hushed tones, Cole and Cassie whispered. Cole filled in the pieces of information that were missing from Cassie's mind. Eventually he said, "The Queen will want to speak to you, you know. She'll find out that the King went to your chamber, and she won't overlook the fact that every single one of the girls was one of your roommates. She'll think you know something."
Cassie nodded, fearing as much. Her curls bobbed forward, swinging into her face. She tucked them back and looked up at her brother. "I know. I'm the last one who saw anything."
He nodded, "And, you're the only proof that the King was consuming blood last night. I seriously doubt that he left a blood trail for them to follow. He's too smart to get caught. If I hadn't seen you - "
Cassie stared blankly ahead at the dark blue walls, only half listening. She blurted out the question lurking in the back of her mind, the one she was too afraid to ask, "Do you think they're dead?" Her voice caught on the word making her heart constrict.
Cole looked at his sister. Death was a part of life. Their kind dealt with it frequently. A simple paper cut could end their fragile existence. But, no one expected anything like this. Palace humans didn't get brutalized by the royalty. "I don't know."
Alice entered the room and passed in front of them. She wandered through the halls like she was lost. Cassie felt bad for the girl and called to her, "What's the matter, Alice?"
Alice stopped, surprised to hear her name and turned back. She walked over to them and stood in front of Cassie and Cole. Her normally pale skin was sullen and sickly looking. It reminded Cassie of a bleached sock. Alice usually had a little color in her cheeks, but it was gone. The girl looked like she was in shock. "They pushed up my Pairing." Alice's voice was barely there and devoid of emotion.
Cassie's jaw dropped. She leaned forward and took the girl's hand. "Alice, when is it?"
"Tonight." Before Cassie could ask her more about it, Alice turned and wandered off. The lost expression in her eyes was shock. Alice had been chosen to be bred for offspring.
Cassie and Cole looked at each other. For a long moment, neither of them spoke. Then, Cassie finally asked, "Who'd they pair her with?"
"I don't know," Cole replied. "I left before breakfast to come and find you. This is the first I've heard of it." Cole didn't like this. Something changed last night, something big enough to force up a premature Pairing.
"She's not ready for that. It'll kill her," Cassie said, leaning closer to Cole to make sure Alice couldn't hear. Alice was staggering down the hallway letting shock steer her feet. They could still see her from where they sat on the couch.
Cole nodded, "We need to find out what's going on. The Queen's entourage moved through the palace last night, so it was hard to sneak around. I was lucky to find you after the King questioned you, but I didn't really find anything else. Just that several vamps died, and that those moving around were looking for the missing girls. They were in our chambers, looking for Kahli and the other two, as if they were hiding."
Cassie stared blankly. She wished that was it, but her gut told her something very different. She gazed after Alice. "Do you think they bumped up other the Pairings? Do you think they would really risk one generation to breed the next?" Cassie's voice was small and frightened.
Cole knew he couldn't save her from the Pairing. It was something they all had to do eventually, but it was worse for the girls. Many of them didn't survive childbirth, despite the vast quantities of blood given to help alleviate the hemorrhaging that followed. The blood disorder was too far gone.
"I don't know," he finally said. "Whatever happened here last night has everyone on edge. It feels like a power shift is coming."
"What do you mean?"
Cole stared blankly. He didn't want to say it, but Cassie needed to know that they were in danger. "Remember when we were younger? Remember Deliverance Day?"
Cassie's face paled. She'd never forget that. It seemed like nothing at first - some people running around trying to figure out what happened, while she and Cole played quietly. The night ended in more spilled blood than she'd ever seen in her life. The Deliverance Day Cole was referring to was a massacre. She nodded once, her throat too tight to talk. Cole saved her that night. "Do you think that'll happen here?"
"I'm not sure," Cole replied, "but based on the way things feel - yes. It's possible." The tension in the air was palpable. They both sensed it.
Cassie's gaze lifted to see the end of the hallway was empty. Alice was gone. Cassie didn't want to be Paired. She didn't want to die. Not yet. She leaned forward and pressed her hands to her face. Strange thoughts started to drift through her mind, foreign thoughts of living on their own of surviving without the vampires. Was that even possible anymore?
"Cassie," a new voice called her name, snapping her out of her thoughts. A slender servant walked toward her before finishing, "The Queen has requested you."
"For a feeding?" Cassie asked, hoping that it had nothing to do with Kahli.
"I'm not obligated to say, however since I'm not your Handler, I would think not."
Cassie's throat tightened and her pulse jumped. She nodded slowly. Before she could stand, Cole took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Cassie gave him a weak smile. "I'll see you tonight."
He nodded once, watching his sister walk off to be questioned by the most powerful vampire in the world.