Decide Your Destiny
The sign reads, Failed business. Due to be repossessed by the palace.
It was nailed to our front door in the middle of the night. We didn’t notice it at first, because no one spoke to us, but it is a nonnegotiable order from the Vampire Royal Palace.
We don’t matter to the palace. There it is in crimson ink, our death sentence.
They will soon replace my family’s bookshop with a military outpost. Hundreds of books will vanish into thin air and men in army uniforms will appear in their place.
The books in our library aren’t like any old books. When opened, the pages light up in a warm glow. Then they suck the reader into their world.
The first time this happened to me, I was terrified. It felt like free-falling into the light. Then there I was, right in the middle of a brutal battle, bodies slamming into one another in absolute carnage.
I glided through the scene like a ghost, untouched by the horrors before me. While my mind wandered, my body remained in a state of unconsciousness, safely tucked away in between bookshelves.
At this point, I have read every book lining the walls of our bookshop. With nothing else to do, I devour a book a day, exploring its world instead of the one outside my door.
Today, I am in a meadow. Lying on my back, I run my fingers through the tall grass. The blades make a twinkling sound as I rustle them.
A group of pixies whizzes past in a flutter, and I watch a silver unicorn trotting around before it disappears into the tree line.
Just then, I notice a shadow. It’s the outline of a man, hidden just beyond the light. It looks like he’s watching me.
“Ophelia,” a muted voice says from far away. It sounds like I am under water.
Ignoring the voice, I get up and walk toward the figure, trying to get a better look. But as soon as I move forward, he retreats into the darkness of the forest, out of sight.
“Ophelia,” the same voice says again, only now its tone is stern.
I huff, snapping myself out of the book. “What?” I groan, rubbing my eyes.
“Ophelia,”—my mother, Lucinda, towers over me—“off in another dream world again?”
“They’re called books.” I stand up and give her a kiss on the cheek.
My father, Dante, is packing boxes behind her. “You know, the real world isn’t too bad.”
“Maybe the real world would be better if you just let me leave town,” I snap back sarcastically.
“Now, now,” my father says, “you know the forests this close to the border are too dangerous.”
“Are they?” I interject. “Because as far as I know, no one has ever seen anything dangerous out there, let alone been killed.”
“Yes,” my mother starts, “but there are stories that—”
“But that’s all they are, mother…, stories.” I sigh, frustrated at their unwavering stubbornness.
An unknown evil is allegedly brewing just beyond the borders.
And while all we hear are mere whispers, speckles of inconsistent rumors here and there, many have been spooked away, too afraid to venture this far out to the outskirts of the kingdom.
It seems that all the realms, previously living in harmony, have grown suspicious of one another.
Each blames the other for this evil shadow cast across the land. Although no one has encountered it themselves, they somehow still believe in it.
Gone are the days of harmonious coexistence. I don’t remember a time before this isolation.
I feel it more than most for I find myself in a unique position.
I am human. As an infant, I was adopted by a vampire family.
This particular detail doesn’t help me to plead my case to explore the lands outside our town, Fayvein.
Most humans that live in the vampire world are familiars. They dedicate their lives to serving their vampire masters.
My parents worry about me. They don’t want me to be discovered and forced to live a life of servitude.
Fayvein is my safe haven. Hidden within a forest, Fayvein looks like it fell right out of a fairytale and landed in the real world.
The vampires in Fayvein know about my “condition,” as they call it. It’s our secret.
They have known me since childhood and have vowed to protect me. But the same cannot be said for those outside Fayvein.
I think of the sign posted to our shop door again. The thought of my safe space being polluted by a military outpost makes me sick to my stomach.
It is clear the shared paranoia about what lies beyond the kingdom’s borders has infected the royal palace.
Or perhaps they care little for culture and art, choosing to focus on death and destruction instead.
There are tales, from many moons ago, of travelers venturing through these parts, sharing books from their own realms—tales of unknown civilizations and creatures from far, far away.
Stories about the Werewolf Kingdom, the Fae Kingdom, the Witch Kingdom, and even the Human Kingdom are still told to children.
But it has been so long, that they have transformed into just myths.
As I look around the shop, so full of books, yet void of life, I know that those days are behind us. These days, we’re lucky to even get one customer a month.
All of a sudden, I hear the doorbell jingle.
Surprised, I hurriedly straighten my dress. I didn’t even realize my parents had left the room and that I am alone. I can hear them in the basement, sorting through our archives.
“How can I help you?”
I nearly gasp when I am met with a hooded figure. His face is almost fully concealed, his cowl revealing only a pair of icy blue-gray eyes and the glimmer of a mischievous smile.
In his hand, he holds a piece of parchment.
“Do you mind posting this on the bulletin board outside?” he asks, not bothering to introduce himself.
He passes me the paper carefully.
The sign glistens gold.
The Crimson Cup.
The Royal Palace welcomes all maidens from throughout the realm to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
If you choose to take part, you may earn the opportunity to win the vampire king’s heart.
The event will take place on February 14 of this year at the Royal Palace.
Be warned, this tournament is not for the fainthearted.
At the bottom of the page is the recognizable crimson emblem of the Royal Palace. The very same emblem stamped on the notice of closure outside.
I immediately notice the date: Valentine’s Day. The king must be a hopeless romantic at heart, I think to myself.
Little is known about King Atticus.
However, the matter of his succession is widely debated. He has no queen and, therefore, no heir. People speculate when that will change, and I suppose the answer is…soon.
The king is clearly growing tired of his council’s incessant nagging. But his claim to the throne is weak unless he acts on their advice.
For what is a king without his queen?
When I look back up, the hooded man has vanished into thin air. But another is standing in his place.
I recognize the man from town: Roanoke Briar.
The moonlight trickles in through the stained-glass window, bathing his skin in an ominous red.
Lord Briar is a wealthy local nobleman. He is known to be aloof, choosing to spend his time almost exclusively with a trusted inner circle, a band of unfriendly and snarky vampires.
They suffer from a collective sense of superiority and hardly ever fraternize with the rest of the townsfolk.
I would occasionally see him around town, his raven black hair always slicked back, his dark green eyes judging everyone. But we have never exchanged pleasantries.
“May I have a look?” he asks me.
“I can show you around if you’d like?” I suggest.
“Do you have a favorite section?”
“The historical fiction section.” I point him to the back of the shop.
“The good old days, when everyone was friends,” he says.
I detect a hint of sarcasm. He wanders away, pacing up and down the aisle, he brushes his fingers along the book spines
“Ophelia, we need you downstairs. Your father and I are…” My mother stops when she realizes I am not alone. Her eyes widen.
It has been too long since we’ve seen someone come in through those doors.
Wait till she finds out we’ve actually had two visitors today. I had almost forgotten about the strange man with the blue eyes.
Noticing my mother, Roanoke makes his way back to us.
“I can save this…”—he scans the shelves as if trying to figure out what sort of establishment he is in. I swear I spot a hint of disgust in his eyes—“place,” he says, finally finishing his sentence.
Slowly, his eyes land on me. “But in exchange,” he continues, now speaking to my mother, “I am to be wed to your daughter.”
As soon as the words leave his lips, my heart sinks. There is a tightness in my throat and I find myself unable to speak.
“I,” I stutter, “I…”
“She will think about your gracious offer, Lord Briar,” my mother exclaims, bowing her head.
He nods, giving me one last look before walking out into the night.
“Mother, I am not marrying that man,” I hiss when he is out of earshot.
“Having another argument, are we?” my father says, interrupting our bickering.
“No,” I say, “Mom just plans on marrying me off to Lord Briar so that he can save the shop.”
“He’s not bad looking, you know,” my father adds.
“Then you marry him,” I suggest.
“Oh, you know we’re only joking,” my mother reassures me. She pulls me in for a hug. “We will figure something else out.” She releases a long sigh.
I can detect the sadness behind her comforting words. I know that we don’t have many other options. My parents have even started packing up the shop.
I don’t wish to marry Roanoke. After all, I am only just turning twenty-one tomorrow, and he is thirty…or rather, he has been thirty for over a hundred and fifty years.
But I need to save the bookshop. I need to save my family.
“Your father and I are going out hunting. Will you be all right locking up on your own?”
“No,” I reply sarcastically, winking at her.
My parents quit human blood when they adopted me, which I find sentimental, but there are others in town with a taste for it.
As I lock up the bookshop, I weigh up my options.
I could marry Roanoke and move to Briar Manor. It’s a perfectly lovely place from what I’ve heard, grand and comfortable, and most importantly, close enough for me to visit my family often.
Plus, with Roanoke’s money and sway with the palace, the bookshop will be saved.
It seems like the perfect solution.
Just then, my eyes settle on the piece of parchment pinned to our bulletin board.
The Crimson Cup
I had completely forgotten about the competition.
Even if I had just a moment with the king, I could convince him to change his mind about the shop, I know it.
It seems I have a decision to make…
DECIDE YOUR DESTINY…
Should Ophelia marry Roanoke and move to Briar Manor? Or should she journey to the Royal Palace to compete in The Crimson Cup for a chance to win the king’s heart?
Skip to the next chapter to vote.
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