"This is a bad idea, milady.", Amelia stated, huffing warm air into her shivering hands. "What if we get caught? The Lord will surely have my head, and, you too, will be given some punishment."
Lillian, her little sister, who was barely a year younger than me, gasped loudly, "What if they force your hand in marriage to that pimplypoop?" She spatted out the name.
Ah, pimplypoop, or more so known as Lord Taylium Grimes, was a skinflint with a beer belly and had a strange obsession with collecting flowers. I was his flavor of the week. His pudgy face had little pimples and acne, which was very disgusting when he used to scratch it, yellow liquid oozing out. He used to present me with fresh flowers every day, to the point it was very annoying. Pimply had been pursuing me for a while now, and the Lord of our kingdom, my father, got the whiff of the news. Fate absolutely adores me! Old man could barely control his excitement of sending me away for once and all and began convincing me to marry him. Why wouldn't he, after all, it would spare his expenses on me. I was born into a family of skinflints. How fortunate! They don't understand that you can't marry a person you just met!
I sighed and flashed them a smile, "We'll see what happens when it happens. Best to enjoy this moment, no? We're the three musketeers. We stay together. If I marry him, you'll have my invitation to join me in my new life."
"Oh, hush, both of you. With all due respect Milady, Lord Grimes changes his interest every week. Surely he will find someone new within a few days. Maybe I can 'accidentally' hit him on his head with my parasol! " My handmaiden gleamed, looking at me with hope in her eyes. She was the more of a violent one amongst us, but nonetheless, a friend.
"Amelia!!! Cripes!" Lilly widened her eyes, glaring at her sister. "Her lady is the most beautiful in the whole kingdom of Amarlydus. I doubt he would find a new lady so soon. Grimes only prefers women with honey blonde hair, I see. Milady, may I consult the kingdom witch to make a potion that will darken your silk-like hair? It might help Lord Grimes to stop pursuing you anymore. I read somewhere that using henna will too darken your hair."
"And destroy it!" exclaimed Amelia, her expression horrific.
"Girls, girls, stop bickering on trivial matters. We shall see and deal with whatever happens when it happens. For now, we must reach our destination before that pimpleface of a man starts going berserks on my disappearance.", I commented.
Pimplypoop had invited me to join him to a candlelight dinner and I didn't have much of a choice because of the consistent remarks of my persisting father. Who likes candlelight dinners anyway? All he and the dinner would attract is bugs and nothing else.
"Are you sure about this, milady? Though I would never question your judgment, it seems a bit ...scary." Amelia shivered visibly, and her sister nodded in agreement.
"And I think you both are being a wuss. It will be all good. I am in dire need of some excitement in my planned life." I told my handmaidens.
They remained silent, not expressing their disagreement on my wish anymore, and continued following me through the forest from where the gothic mansion was slightly visible. 'Quod Maledictus Regnum', or 'The Cursed Kingdom' was not exactly a kingdom anymore, just a very large estate with a huge manor. The same manor towards which we were heading. It had been demolished after some sort of a war eres ago. The manor was known to be the birthplace of many rumors, secrets, myths, legends, and the cradle of the extinct 'werewolves'. It was the forbidden manor in Amarlydus, but who am I to abide by the rules.
The glowing moon looked down at me, warning me about the horrors we might have to face in the estate, but I brushed it off. The black night held me close, my cloak providing me comfort in its warmth. However, the moon didn't know that it was that friendly blackness that allowed my eyes to rest and let my dreams take center stage. The only little time I had to be free. To be me and not follow special rules or be in the presence of any men. All I wanted was my freedom, to feel the wind in my hair, to witness the beauty of nature, to make my dreams come true...Circumstances, however, made it impossible for anyone in Amarlydus to leave, so I was limited to living out my dreams and fantasies through images in books and tales from passing merchants, who were notorious for exaggerating to earn an extra coin or two.
So, here we were, grasping the opportunity by its bud and sneaking off to explore like a wee bird who had just learned to fly with its newfound wings.
My thoughts came to halt as I saw the black wrought iron lanterns illumining the entry of the gothic manor. The massive stone building loomed over the extensive grounds like a forbidden castle. The Manor was a complete wreck. Black, withered vines clung to the brick in desperation, and several windows on the ground floor were boarded up while the rest was covered in filth and grime. The once-prized gardens were now overrun with weeds that leeched everything from the soil without mercy.
Amelia and Lillian met my eyes, desperation in them requesting me to head back towards my manor. But this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I didn't want to let go of it without making use of it! They sighed and reluctantly followed me towards the entrance.
"How do we get past?", asked Lilly.
"Seems like it's locked, milady. Let's head back now.", Amelia said with a huge smile on her face after tugging on the metal locks.
"Not so easily, we won't.", I smirked. "We climb the gate with the help of the metal bars laid horizontally on it. Come on, now. I will head first. You both follow my lead after."
They looked at me as if I had sprouted an extra head.
"What about our dress? It provides difficult for movement of our limbs in such heavy clothes.", Lilly cried out.
"Well, lift the hem of the dress with your hands, then." With that, I lifted my gown to my waist and started climbing the rusty gates, slowly and steadily, one foot after the other. After a few minutes of a little discomfort, I started climbing down the gate and my foot finally made contact with the ground.
Brushing off the dust from my hands, I said, "There you go. Your turn, now."
My handmaidens followed my lead, and soon we all were gazing at the marvel which lay in front of us, moving forward and being enchanted by the area of the estate, though it was ghastly in some areas. The estate was so large, we could only tour one-quarters of the manor with the limited time that we had. Taking a deep breath, I ventured forward.
The stairs ahead, in the manor, were twisted in a perfect spiral, as a child's Slinky toy pulled from each end. Each stair was likely a deep walnut, but with the thick layer of undisturbed dust, it was hard to tell. The inner edge was painted antique cream, and when Amelia disturbed the dust layer the paint was quite perfect underneath; no dirt and no flaking or dents. It was as if it was perfect one day and abandoned the next, just like the rest of the world. So where were the skeletons? Or if still alive, why didn't anybody take their clothes or possessions? I let my hand fall onto the black iron rail, rough in its rustic charm, and placed my weight on the first step. There was no creak or sign of rot, they were as solid as the day they were made. I walked swiftly to the top leaving my shoe prints behind.
"Milady! Wait! Did you hear that?!", Amelia said, fear evident in her eyes.
"Here what, Amelia?", I asked, looking around, confounded by her sudden show of fear. I furrowed my brows and said, "There is nothing around. You are just being paranoid, Amelia."
Lillian remained silent, reaching for my hand and lacing our fingers together. Amelia held her sister's hand after letting out a breath, though she was still shuddering, because of the fear and the cold.
However, this time, we all heard it, the sound sinking in our bones, sending a shiver down our spine.
A howl, a real beastly howl, pierced the air, making us all go quiet and stiff in a mixture of awe, terror, and confusion at the sound we had only heard about in stores. It was deep, powerful, frightening, yet beautiful and I found myself trembling not just from the cold. When it ended, I let out a sigh of what I assumed was relief, my breath misting and swirling up peacefully, unlike my demeanor, into the air.
"Can we please go back now?" Lilly hissed, tugging an ebony hand at Amelia's sleeve, knowing there would be no use in trying to persuade my mind.
"Milady, please. This curiosity of yours will be our doom someday, with all due respect." Amelia looked up at me with her wide brown eyes gleaming with desperation.
"No! We made it this far. Don't you want to know what lies beyond, the secrets, the legends...You know you do. I promise to you that this will not be a ridiculous attempt in satisfying our curiosity and it will prove to be worth the risk.", I said, determined to explore more of the manor.
The manor was once a grand place, it seemed. Rows and rows of paintings lined up at the walls, dusty furniture, shining silver tapestries which were now coated with a thick coat of dust. The aesthetic of the manor was dark but beguiling, an enigma in its self.
A sudden harp and distant 'crack' ing sound reverberated off in the room. Lilliana jumped and let out a choked sound that was the beginning of a scream. Amelia and I shared the looks of what I guessed was fear.
We all knew about the dangers that lurked in the Regnum. We had been told stories about them our entire lives. We had feared them our entire lives.
"Fiddlesticks!", Amelia whimpered, stepping closer and grabbing onto my bicep quite painfully. "Milady...let's go!"
I was about to agree, had even gone as far as to release the words from my mouth. But, they got caught in my throat when I heard a scream.
Head whipping around, I cried out in horror when I saw a massive creature sinking its teeth into Lilliana's neck, her blood spurting out on the dusty marble floor. Her scream of anguish, pain, and fear made the birds fly out of trees as she fell backward, giving the beast better access to her throat. The beastly creature taking sadistic pleasure in digging its teeth far deeper into her delicate pale neck.
Amelia screamed and cupped her mouth as she began bawling uncontrollably, backing away from the sight and swinging her head in every direction.
"Lilly!" I yelled, my feet stuck in fear at the sight of the massive wolf-like creature.
It was bigger than we could've ever imagined. Although it was a wolf by physical definition, there were slight differences that I instantly noticed that confirmed to me that this was no ordinary animal. It had more of a hunched back, shorter tail, and its teeth and claws were grotesque as if their sole purpose was to strike fear. This was no wolf, it was a monster; the same kind of minster we had been taught to fear but I hadn't learned well enough to listen.
About to run over and help my friend, I was taken aback at being forcefully thrown off my feet, the wind violently knocked out of my lungs, making me gasp in pain. A large weight suddenly pressed down my back, my front feeling dusty, cold, and bruised from landing on my stomach onto the unforgiving icy ground.
I screamed aloud. I kept doing it until my lungs no longer supplied me with the air.
The beast growled, snapped its yellow teeth at my ear, making me whimper into silence as a single canine pierced through the cartilage. Amelia cried out from somewhere and I heard a distinctive thud of a body hitting the ground.
Suddenly, the whole place had gone deathly silent, the only thing I was able to hear were monstrous growls, making me fear for the worse. As soon as I felt the canines of the creature piercing through my neck, I screamed and sobbed helplessly, "No! Oh, gods no- please!"
Through my pleas, a growl pierced in the air, so loud and frightening that it had the wolf on top of me go still instantly and myself go silent except for my ragged breathing.
Gasping for much-needed air, I lifted my head to be met with my savior, a black wolf larger than the others and scarred so badly that chinks of fur were missing, revealing light skin underneath. Its eyes were a deep golden color and he was staring right at me, eyelids narrowing when our gazes made contact. It almost looked as if he was glaring at me like I was the one wrong. The black wolf stalked towards me and somehow, I didn't start crying. I was too emotionally and physically exhausted for that. Walking with regal aura, and if it weren't for my state, I would look at the best with awe. He growled at the wolf who was just on top of me, revealing a set of sharp white teeth.
A large paw on each of my shoulders and his lower body keeping my legs trapped, he nuzzled his wet nose against my shoulder, smelling me with a low growl.
Did he enjoy the smell of piss?
I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth when his tongue darted out and took its time licking the juncture where my right shoulder met my neck. He abruptly pulled back and stared at me, his eyes never leaving my face. I stared at the nasty scar on his snout and winced, to which he growled lowly. The other wolves, along with him, remained silent and still, waiting to see what would happen next.
And then his head shot down to the same spot on my collarbone, and the last thing I felt before darkness dominated my senses was the horrible crunch of his teeth tearing through my flesh.