Authors: Trisha Wolfe
Unveiled. Copyright © 2011 by Trisha Wolfe. All rights reserved. No part of this novelette may be used or reproduced whatsoever without written permission except for quotations written in articles or reviews.
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The characters and events in this novelette are fictitious and are completely derived from the imagination of the author. Any similarities to real people either living or deceased are completely coincidental and are not intended by the author.
No story, even a short story, comes to be without the help of many people. For all their cheerleading and encouragement through this project, I want to thank my critique partners. Tori, Rachel, Lori Ann, and Hope, you guys are the freakin’ wind beneath my wings.
To all my Twitter friends for inspiring and being awesome. You kept me going. Have to shout out the amazing book bloggers. You guys rock. Valerie for reading before edits and still loving it, and Alex for doing the cover reveal.
To my agent, Lauren Hammond, for her praise and belief in my writing, and for those too fun phone calls where one of us eventually ran out of battery power. I heart you big time.
To my father for believing and being proud of me, and listening to my rambles during editing. I’m forever a daddy’s girl.
To my mother for reading, many, many times, and giving me valuable input. You’re the coolest mom in the world. To my son for being my sounding board. And thank you to my husband for your support so that I could write.
To my mother,
for everything . . . I love you.
The torches cast eerie, affecting shadows against the stone walls as the celebration heightens and the dancing begins. Candlelight flickers from each table in the ceremonial hall of Karm Castle, and I watch as the little flame before me bows, then sways to the music.
I think how easy it would be to snuff out that tiny flame and a shiver crawls along my spine, knowing that’s exactly why I’m here.
The kingdom of Karm surrounds us. The air we breathe, the grass, the water, the sky above—with its faint shimmer of voltage. Karm protects us from Outside. The wasteland.
And it’s death.
The cream satin dress irritates my skin. Its lacy bodice scathes, and I wish I was hidden in the shadows, watching and lurking, rather than openly attending Prince Sebastian’s betrothal ceremony. At least then I could wear my usual all-black gear.
King Hart’s son, Sebastian, and his newly acquired bride-to-be, Zara, sit at a table at the head of the ceremonial hall. Zara’s expression looks like she’d rather be anywhere but here.
I’m with you, honey.
I scan the dancing citizens, then focus my attention across the room. As entertaining as it is to swoon over the celebrity couple, I have to keep my eyes on the dark haired guy in the navy blue uniform. Xander.
I’ve trained my whole life for this day. While other girls were attending etiquette class, learning how to curtsy and talk like someone from the Dark Ages, I was learning how to fight and track prey. Using the woods as my training ground. Away from the ever watchful eye of the Force.
The Force are the keepers of order and era in Karm. Only I’m not sure even they know what the true year is. King Hart says it’s 2130. My mentor believes it’s closer to the twenty-third century.
Excuse me,” a voice says from behind, interrupting my concentration.
Backing away from the table, I turn toward the voice. A guy dressed in era wardrobe, a blue vest with black tunic and pants, stands beside me, smiling. I smile back. “Yes?”
He bows, offering me his hand. “Would you care for a dance, Miss . . .?”
Refraining from rolling my eyes, I accept his hand and offer of a dance. “Thank you. And Miss Fallon,” I say, but skip over the pleasantries. I’m not a fan of the ridiculous way King Hart has us speak. I’ve read enough books and seen clips from salvaged movies in the rebel camp to know it wasn’t common before the Final War. Although, it’s a difficult habit to break, having only ever known this life myself.
He guides me toward the center of the hall, and for a moment I’m angry that he’s disturbed my surveillance. But then I realize this will get me closer to my mark. And spying on Xander while dancing looks less conspicuous then gawking at him from across the room.
Lifting the hem of my dress, I curtsy before him, then allow him to take my hand and lead me in the Ronde. I grab the hand of the person next to me and skip, following the ring of people circling the room. We break to clap, then join hands and skip again. The enchanted music from mandolins and flutes echoes through the hall combined with laughter from celebrating citizens. I’m having a hard time keeping Xander in my sight as we round the room.
Finally the dance ends, and I take a deep breath. I move out of the circle, but my dance partner clasps my hand, halting my retreat. “Another dance, Miss Fallon?” His blue eyes shimmer in the dim candlelight.
The music slows, and the staccato beat moves the bodies in tight embraces around us. I give a half-nod. “Certainly.” I have to keep a low profile, but I also need to rid myself of this guy. At some point, I must make my move on the knight.
The guy wraps his arms around my waist, his warm hand pressed to my lower back. I relax into his arms, molding myself against his embrace. As he leads, I’m stuck staring at the front of the hall. I need to turn us around so I can watch Xander over his shoulder. My chest tightens as anxiety wracks my nerves. The blade of my dagger rubs against the back of my thigh, reminding me why I’m here.
My long dark hair is twirled into a bun, and in its center is a tiny vial of Hemlock—a deadly poison. The dagger is back-up if I fail to slip the concoction into his wine. Or worse, if I’m caught doing so.
Seeing King Hart on the giant wall monitor during the betrothal ceremony was unsettling enough, never mind that I’m one Rebel in a room filled with knights of the Force. But I’m thankful his face isn’t looming over the hall now. That would make this mission more nerve-wracking than it already is. And knowing what awaits me back at the camp if I fail . . .
No. I won’t fail.
As I watch the couples dressed in absurd costumes rock back and forth, I resist rolling my eyes again. Camelot was ages—centuries ago. King Hart believes forcing us to live in his ideal realm will prevent us from repeating mistakes our ancestors made that destroyed the earth.
And the technology he uses—that only
has access to—binds us. Imprisons us. The barrier surrounding Karm makes sure of that. And the technology woven throughout our city keeps us perfectly monitored. King Hart fills citizens with fear of Outside. Growing up, I was taught that the wasteland was a dead world where monsters roamed. Where people, mutated from nuclear fallout, feast on each other’s flesh. Where the animals have grown larger, hungrier, and evil—the stuff nightmares are made of.
And the king himself? He’s the only one so far to survive the virus that lurks in our blood—the virus spread during the Final War. It lies dormant in our blood, choosing at random who it takes. But no one makes it to a ripe old age.
King Hart’s the only one who’s lived long enough to know what Outside was like before, and what it’s become. Somehow, he’s defied the laws of man and fate.
fate. No one I know has ever seen him in person. Rumors circle that he’s hidden away in some secret lab, either hooked up to a machine that will keep him alive forever, or that he’s part machine himself.
I don’t know if any of it’s true. I only know what my mentor has taught me. And that’s that our world would thrive without Hart. That we could reshape it into a place where people didn’t fear Outside, only giving into this sham utopian lifestyle because they’re scared of being tossed into the unknown. We could send out scouts—discover places where there might be other life, people prospering. And above everything, we could find and study past medicines to discover a cure for the virus that takes us.
Pulling myself from my heated thoughts, I focus on my partner. He’s leading me farther away from my mark. My breath hitches. I need to move this mission forward.
I take a chance and spin my dance partner around. He doesn’t seem to mind, and I rest my chin on his shoulder. Then my blood freezes in my veins. Xander’s gone.
As discretely and
as I can, I separate from him. “I’m afraid today’s events have left me very winded. I must rest,” I say. Then I curtsy low. “Thank you for the dance, Sir.”
His eyes trail over me as his eyebrows knit together. “Larkin. Please, call me by my given name.” Then he runs a hand through his dark hair. “I’m sorry to see you go, but the pleasure of the dance was all mine.” He takes my hand, placing a soft kiss on the top of it. His eyes peek up at me, and he winks.
I force my lips into a smile, taking my hand out of his grasp. “Then thank you, Sir Larkin.”
He returns to his post near the table, probably scouting for another girl to charm, and I turn and head out of the hall.
If I’d been given enough time to study my mark and learn his habits, I might guess where he went. But this mission was assigned to me just today, my mentor only telling me that Xander’s a high-ranking knight, and that he’d be here tonight. I asked why the sudden urgency to dispose of a knight, but was told nothing. Only that it was our top priority. And that I could not fail.
My mentor stressed that this was my own personal test to prove my allegiance to the Rebels.
Trust without question
. Something, I didn’t realize until now, I might have a difficult time with.
I could understand putting a hit on someone of importance like Devlan, Sebastian’s
knight, but why just another knight of the Force? And why so abruptly? But it wasn’t my place to question my mentor’s instructions. After I lost my mother to the virus at age ten, I was taken in and raised by Micha. My eyes were opened to the lies of King Hart long ago.
The corridor is cold. The chilly air prickles my skin as I slink along its stone walls. Blue and silver tapestries hang from the arched ceiling, and I want to rip them, tear them to shreds. If we weren't forced to live in ignorance, someone could have developed a cure and my mother would still be here. I shake my head, clearing it. I don’t have time to brood. I have to find my mark.
The corridor sectors off into two paths ahead of me. This is my first visit to the castle and I don’t know which way to go. Then I hear a noise coming from the left. I lift the hem of my dress and quickly head toward it. At the end of the hallway is an atrium, and leaning against the giant glass window is Xander.
He hasn’t heard me. I slip behind a tall palm and watch him sip his wine. He sets his glass down on the stone bench beside him, then rests his hand on the hilt of his sword. His dark hair feathers his navy collar. I study his strong stance, his tight, defined muscles through his uniform—gauging if I could take him if he catches me sneaking the Hemlock into his drink.
He’s alone. This might be my only chance. If I can distract him long enough, using my oh-so stellar womanly charms—
—it should be simple. Then I can go back to the ceremonial hall, stay just a while longer—making sure I’m seen
—then return to the camp.