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A Dark Curse

A Dark Curse

Author:M.J Khalil


Octavia was born a Princess. Her family has ruled the Shifters for centuries. With wealth and power, Octavia has it all. But none of that matters--not when her people have been at constant war with the Wyres, cursed Shifters chained to the lunar cycles. Wyres are monsters, everyone knows that. And now, their Bloody Prince has set his eyes…on her. She shouldn’t want him. He’s cold. Distant. Ruthless. The Dark Prince and his army of monsters are like nothing Octavia has ever known. And yet she can’t help but crave the wildness they unleash. The Bloody Prince and his guard lure her in despite her every instinct telling her to run. Octavia knows she has the power to end the war. But at what cost?
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We were wild once. Creatures that belonged to the world, and the world to us. Before there were laws and progress, before humans, there was us. Those days are long gone, forgotten by man. But we still remember. It’s in our blood, this wildness.

Our people were blessed. When the world was young and still evolving, we were in tune with the nature that surrounded us. It ran through our veins and filled our lungs. Now, I fear that we’re losing ourselves.

I sit at the window, staring at the blank night sky. I know there are stars…somewhere. Just not here. I try to picture it in my mind, what it would look like uninhibited by the city’s lights. But I fail.

“Miss? It’s almost time for dinner.”

I turn, warily studying the maid that dares to interrupt me. Her nose twitches slightly as her fingers twist in front of her. Her spirit animal is a nervous creature—a Rodent and lowest ranking Shifter there is. I can almost see her animal form; large white ears, whiskers that twitch nearly as much as her button nose, and beady black eyes that flick around the room.

“I’ll be down in a moment,” I reply flippantly. She flits from the room just as quickly as she came.

Sighing, I pull myself away from the window. The sounds of the city come to me, even though the heart of it is still a few miles away. We live just outside the limits, sequestered away in our own little kingdom. Away from the humans.

Just as Mother and Father like it.

We’ve lived here for hundreds of years, immigrating from the Old Lands and extending our control here. Our wealth grew with our lineage, passed down from ancestor to ancestor. The palace was one of the first buildings to be erected in our new land. There’s no other word for it.

A gravel drive wraps around the front courtyard, going right up to the marble steps leading to the wide, double doors painted a bloody red. Imported stone surrounds me now, making the rooms colder despite the heated floors Mother had installed years ago. Gothic windows are strung along the walls, thick drapes obscuring the last fading rays. Mother replaced the candle sconces with electric ones, at least, along with the rest of the lights. But it’s still a palace, complete with a ballroom for holding charity balls, a dining hall for hosting dinners, and many, many rooms that are barely ever used. My bedroom is located in the East Wing turret, a bit far from my parents’ rooms, but a special place nonetheless.

The sun rises in the East. The only part of nature I can hold on to.

I can see the forest that leads to the city as well. Or what’s left of it. Bits and pieces have been chipped away to make room for the luxurious houses of our community over the years as more and more Shifters flock to our capital. We keep our distance from the humans. To them, we’re just a strange but rather rich community on the outskirts—businessmen and CEOs of some of the city’s biggest corporations.

Because it’s hard to live for so long and not be rich. And my family? We’re one of the oldest and richest families still living in North America.

Stopping by the ornate vanity in the corner, I check my reflection. My white blouse is crisp and pristine, without a trace of wrinkles anywhere. The pleated skirt looks a bit school girlish, but still fashionable. I opted for slippers as soon as I arrived back home rather than tracking mud through the house. Getting dirt out of antique carpeting was a bitch and a half. At least, that’s what I’ve heard the maids grumble.

I shut my door, heading down the short corridor to the winding stone steps that lead to the second floor. It twists around a turret that reminds me too much of Repunzel’s tower. It feels a lot like that sometimes. Voices and howls echo through the halls, an endless cacophony.

Though my family is rather small, our pack is not.

A footman opens the door for me, throwing them wide as laughter and chatter spill into the hallway. I revel in it before sweeping into the room, my head held high. In an instant, the talk dies as all eyes turn toward me. As expected. My eyes lock onto my father and mother at the head of the hall, sitting at their own separate table, separated from the rest of the pack. They are nothing but traditionalists beneath modern luxuries.

Even their titles have been changed to represent the times—King and Queen rather than Alpha and Luna.

I said traditionalists, but not in the sense of our history.

“There you are,” Mother coos, motioning for a maid to pull back my chair.

I look the most like her. Or so people say. I have her thick, sweeping dark hair, and her moon-silver eyes. Her lips are thinner, with small lines appearing around the corners of her lips and eyes. I guess I inherited her figure as well; all curves as if our bodies still think we’re starving peasants on the run in the Old Country.

I slip into the seat beside her, leaving a quick peck on her cheek. “Sorry, I got…sidetracked.”

“You’re late.” My father’s disapproval can be felt even from two seats over. His black eyes narrow, framing his Romanesque nose. His black hair has been trimmed close to his scalp and gelled over. He looks more like a businessman than King, but maybe that’s just me.

“Oh, leave the girl alone,” Auntie Rose replies, waving one perfectly-manicured hand my way. “With everything going on, she deserves a little time to herself. Don’t you, love?” Her thick lashes flutter innocently as she flips brilliant red hair over her shoulder.

Auntie Rose’s mate grunts beside her. “Everything going on…those bloody Wyres. Hopefully this ceasefire—”

My father clears his throat with a sharp look in Uncle George’s direction. “Lyra, dear. If you please,” he says.

Mother waves a hand toward the footman at the door who promptly disappears. It isn’t long before more reappear, whisking trays of food and pitchers of wine toward the tables. There are three in total; one at the head for immediate family and the rest is reserved for Court.

Yes, Court.

The humans had already begun shedding notions of royalty, but we’ve stayed true despite the changes throughout history. Our world is separate, continuing on its own timeline. Other Wolf Shifters sit around the tables, all close to the royal family in some way or another. And all of them are powerful.

I can feel the weight of their spirit animals pressing in, clawing their way through the air. Humans have their own legends of Shifters—werewolves and such. They’re not entirely wrong. There are werewolves of legends; beasts cursed and chained to the lunar cycles.

We are not like them.

Shifters are born with their own spirit animal, linked to not only lineage but the individual’s personality. There are so many of us; feline, canine, reptile, rodent, and more. Some are stronger than others, but we’re all a part of our own community. Our own kingdom.

All except a few.

“So,” I say, spearing a piece of asparagus, “how is the war? There’s going to be a ceasefire?” I say it as casually as I possibly can.

“Octavia,” Mother hisses.

“What?” I ask innocently, imitating Auntie Rose’s tone perfectly. “I’m simply asking. Shouldn’t I know what’s going on?”

Mother and Father exchange a quick look, but they aren’t quick enough.

“What?” I ask again, more forceful this time.

“You’ll know when the time is right,” Father mutters, cutting into his steak.

“And when will that time be?” I demand. “When the crown’s set on my head?”

“Knock it off,” Father snaps. “You’re not a pup anymore, Octavia.”

“You’re right,” I shoot back. “I’m not. Which is why I don’t understand why you won’t just tell me things. What ceasefire? Did you talk to the Prince? Are we actually going to have peace?”

Father doesn’t reply. As usual. I learned a long time ago that he’d rather ignore my outbursts than entertain them. Gritting my teeth, I spear another asparagus, sliding it around my plate. My mother sits beside me still as stone, mechanically bringing the fork to her lips. The hall’s conversation dips, no doubt the others more intent on eavesdropping than gossiping.

They aren’t concerned about the war. That’s been going on for way too long to hold their interest anymore. No, they’re more interested in the tension between me and my father—a tension that has been growing to the breaking point lately.

But I don’t care about the tension. I’m more concerned about the things my parents keep from me.

Like the war.

Shifters have been blessed from the beginning, free to connect with their true spirits of the wild. Wyres on the other hand… We have a legend that a Wolf Shifter once pissed off a witch, resulting in him and his entire pack being cursed. Chained to the lunar cycles. A human’s legend turned into reality with a single spell for centuries.

The Wyres blame the Shifters for some reason. Maybe the witch was one. Who knows. All that matters is that this war has been going on for what seems like eons. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. We’ve managed to push the Wyres west, leaving them the mountains and wilds of North America while we benefit from Western civilization. To most, the Wyres are barbaric, forced into the rural lands to bleed dry among the forests and rocks.

But the Wyres are dangerous.

Their bite is lethal to Shifters and, if you do survive, you turn into one of them. The curse is transferred through your bloodstream, killing your spirit and replacing it with a monster. They’ve been trying to get their revenge ever since, killing us simply because of an old myth that might not even be true. But, to be fair, we kill as many of them as they kill us. If there are talks of peace, that would be…historical. Impossible.

And definitely something I deserve to know about as Princess.

“Miss.” A butler stops at my shoulder, his cold eyes locked on the floor. “Your…friend is here to see you.” I can hear the distaste in his voice. A hiss resonates in his throat, the snake within clearly disapproving.

I know who he’s talking about immediately. Looking to Mother hopefully, I hold my breath. Leaving dinner early with the pack isn’t always acceptable, but tonight I guess Mother senses the restlessness in me. She gives a curt nod, clearly ignoring my father’s dark stare beside her.

He might be Alpha, but Mother is Mother.

“Don’t stay out too late, love,” Mother says mildly. I can still hear the warning beneath her words, though.

My chair screeches back, cutting through the chatter. Eyes flick my way as I head toward the dining hall’s doors. I can’t leave the room fast enough. I’m not sure what’s gotten into me tonight. Maybe it’s the full moon. Maybe I’m just sick and fucking tired of being treated like a child.

Tristan’s waiting for me in the front hall, leaning against the wall as if he owns the place. His dark hair gleams beneath the light of the chandelier hanging above his head. Brilliant green eyes meet mine as I make my way down the curved staircase.

“Finally.” He pushes away from the wall, his lean muscles flexing beneath the tight black T-shirt. He brushes his black hair to the side and out of his eyes. His movements are graceful and I can nearly see the fox lying just beneath the surface. “I was starting to think the pack decided to have you for dinner.”

“Ha ha,” I reply dryly. “I didn’t realize we’d ordered entertainment with our meal.”

“At your service, Princess.” Tristan’s tall frame bends into a mocking bow. His hair flops into his eyes again.

I loop my arm through his, dragging him towards the door. “Just get me the hell out of here.”

Tristan glances over his shoulder, spotting the cold-blooded Shifter butler watching as we escape through the front door. “Was the dinner really that bad?” he asks.

“I managed to piss Father off just as the first course came out,” I reply. “I think that’s a new record, actually.”

“Would have loved to see it.” Tristan gives me a sly grin, mischief sparking in his eyes.

The October air nips at my skin as we step onto the front porch, but I ignore the bite. I never complain when I’m finally allowed to escape this prison of a mansion. Tristan pulls me closer, our body heat keeping us warm enough. We head towards the back gardens, looping around the side of the mansion, passing perfectly trimmed bushes and stone fountains tucked between beds of flowers.

“Have you heard anything about peace talks?”

Tristan’s head whips around. “No,” he replies slowly. “I haven’t. Have you?”

“Uncle George accidentally let it slip tonight. But my parents won’t tell me anything.” I nearly bite my tongue in frustration. “They won’t tell me anything I actually need to know about their stupid little kingdom.”

“Careful,” Tristan warns playfully. “That sounds like treason, Princess.”

I look away, toward the treetops peeking over the stone wall surrounding our property. All I want is to get away for just a few minutes—to run through the trees in my wolf form and escape…well, everything.

“Hey.” Tristan stops, pulling me back. His thumb dips beneath my chin, forcing me to look into those eyes of emerald. “If you really want to know, I’ll find out for you. Whatever I can.” His eyes burn into me, sending waves of heat across my skin.

“Really.” I’m not entirely convinced, though Tristan is more sly than I give him credit for. He manages to find out everything.

“As I said,” he grins, “I’m at your service, Princess.”