He snapped his jaws shut, fangs digging into warm flesh and yanked his head back. Blood smeared his face and with a last, choked groan the dog sagged to the ground. Snarling, he grabbed the dog by the neck and shook his head from side to side. The limp body was hurled back and forth like a ragdoll. Furious shouting echoed between the trees and he opened his mouth, flinging the dog into the nearest trunk. Whipping his tail, neck lowered, ears folded back and fur bristling, he watched them come. With their pack of growling dogs and flickering torches, they charged him all at once.
Oliver woke with a shaky breath, eyes flying open as he sprang upright in the bed. Cold sweat sheeted his burning skin. Like he had been the one... He inhaled shallowly; scared his lungs might catch fire if he didn’t. The aristocrat glanced around the half lit room blankly and suddenly found himself gazing upon a face bathed in the glorious golden and red blush of the rising sun. A strangled groan struggled over his lips and he closed his eyes. Squeezed them shut. Turned his face away and laid down in the bed once more. Pulled the duvet all the way up to his chin despite the blistering pain jolting him.
“Leave.” he grumbled.
“Is that the proper way to address the Emperor’s brother?” the dark voice that haunted his dreams asked, tinged with amusement. “What would your mother say?”
“You’re not real.” Oliver whispered, heart churning in his chest.
“I’m right here.” Christian promised. “Open your eyes. Look at me.”
Oliver inhaled hoarsely. “That’s what you always say.” he murmured.
A hand touched his shoulder gently. “Olli? Are you awake?”
Slowly, Oliver opened his eyes with a sigh. “What are you doing in my room, Olivia? You are not supposed to be here. Even though we’re cousins.”
Olivia snorted indifferently. “Since when did we start to care about such... Politics?”
“Since my mother made her presence known at the ball.” Oliver grumbled. “She will have both our heads if she finds you in here.”
“Then we better hope she won’t pay you a visit in the next few minutes.” Olivia smiled wickedly and sat down on the bed. “What do you say about accompanying your favourite cousin to breakfast? It’s so boring with just Uncle Lars, Auntie Henriette and Auntie Charlie being there...”
“Sure.” Oliver mumbled. His cousin had acted surprisingly selfless after he had awoken, but naturally her consideration had to end sometime and when it did, it was better to comply than complain.
“Good.” Olivia sighed in obvious relief. “I will have a man servant sent in here and help you get dressed. I will be waiting in the hallway. I wish I could speak to the Princess; maybe I could make it so that we could dine with her and the Emperor instead. I’m sure that she would appreciate my...”
“Olivia...?” Oliver almost decided not to say anything when his cousin froze on the floor at the stress in his voice. But took a deep, shaky breath that made his ribs twinge. “Has there been any word about...?”
“No.” Olivia said quietly.
“Do you think...?” Oliver’s voice faltered.
Olivia brushed some imaginary dust off her deep purple dress. “Sebastian says...”
Oliver snorted. “I already know what Sebastian says. I asked for your opinion.”
Olivia exhaled softly and for once seemed to choose her words with great care. “All I know is that Sebastian knows more about these things, their world, than we ever will and so I rely on what he tells me. Maybe you should as well?”
Oliver gritted his teeth so hard his jaw hurt. “He knows nothing! If he did, he would be able to tell me what exactly happened to Christian instead of just speaking in riddles! Not even Gregor or Sarah, two of the oldest of their kind, have answers...”
“Christian is dead, Olli.” Olivia said simply. “The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can go on with your life.” Again, she hesitated. Spoke surprisingly gently. “Don’t you think that’s what Christian would have wanted for you?”
“I have decided to search for him.” Oliver revealed.
“How?” Olivia turned to him in surprise. “When?”
“As soon as I am well enough, I will leave. I certainly can’t stay here and... I can’t go with you back to Uncle’s estate. Not when...” Oliver cleared his sore throat. “Not when he’s not with me.”
“Olli, our lives are in danger, remember?” Olivia’s eyes gleamed with anger. “What am I supposed to do if something happens to you? Do you have any idea how horrible it was for me when I thought you were gone forever?”
Olivia left the room after chatting about her misery for what felt like an eternity. Gingerly, Oliver rose to his feet, biting back the lashing pain that lanced his body. He had spent the past two or three days in that bed and quite frankly, he was sick and tired of it. After washing up and getting dressed, he gazed out the window and his eyes were drawn to the forest that loomed behind the gardens in the east in the morning light. Was there somebody there, just waiting to kill him? The young Lord shook his head, clutching the pearly white windowsill painfully. Gritted his teeth. He couldn’t die. Not yet. Not alone.
“Christian...” he whispered. “Where are you?”