1 Lamb to the Slaughter

I hurried down the corridor, my heart beating at speeds that made me nauseous. Silky skirts, slippers glittering with hundreds of minuscule crystals, delicate leaves of gold weaving through my hair; I wasn't used to any of it. It all weighed me down like a heavy stone placed in my gut.

But this was only the beginning of my sinking heart.

The ornate, angular feel of the palace sent shivers down my spine. The soaring ceilings and marble floors radiated with the warmth of precious metals and the glow of healthy sunlight filtering through the expansive windows. Despite this, it all felt so cold.

The low sofas, tables, chairs, all squared off, and minimalistic in styles I have never seen or thought would exist. Everything was neat. Inhumanely neat.

I had to shove away all my opinions and emotions regarding... their kind, because this was my new workplace. I felt inferior, pitiful compared to humanity's flawless counterpart.

I'd applied for a job as a servant in the palace nearly a year ago, expecting little to come out of it. Careers inside the castle's walls were difficult to come by, difficult to execute, and difficult to maintain. But the money was enough to make people scrabble over the leftovers. Humans in Senkyo could never hope to climb the social pyramid; they are born as peasants and will die as such despite their efforts. Humans with Faerie blood fare better, living as merchants and business owners alongside the Semis. I, like the rest of my family and lineage, being the former. Thus, to be accepted for this work was a godsend; it would help me bring in an amount of money neither of my parents had ever seen before in their lives.

I tried to keep this first and foremost in my mind to distract myself from what awaited me at my destination.

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I had hurried to the palace at dusk, as I was instructed to do by the letter sent to my door last night. I was dressed in the uniform I was also left; it consisted of a simple black short-sleeved dress, the simplicity only disturbed by a small embroidery of golden leaves along the hem. I was directed by a blank-faced male butler to a room that seemed incredibly small and drab compared to the rest of the castle, even though it was luxurious compared to my family's house if you can even call it such. By the more utilitarian approach to design, I deduced that it must be a section of the servants' quarters.

A visibly exhausted woman with coppery hair was leaning against the backrest of a worn wooden chair, propping herself up by the elbow. She seemed distracted, and I only caught her attention after the butler shut the door briskly, irritated that he had been holding it for me. He took his place in the corner and stood tall, his eyes boring holes into the back of my head.

The woman stared at me for a second before smiling curtly and pushing herself away from the chair.

"Finally, a new girl." She said, more to the male than to me. He said nothing, but his pointed ears twitched.

It was difficult to stop myself from staring at him. He was gorgeous, as they all were, but in an unsettling way. His grey eyes met mine and I looked away, flustered.

"Well darling, what's your name? I'm Kat. Just a humble human in this castle filled with... those." Kat glared at the butler. She had a charismatic tone to her voice.

"Syndra," I answered abruptly.

"Well Miss Syndra, good luck." Kat's previous enthusiasm faltered abruptly.

"E-excuse me?" I stuttered, confused by the sudden negative change.

She did not respond, so I turned my head to look at the butler again. He raised both his eyebrows, clearly amused. I scowled and he met it with an unpleasant curl of the lip.

Kat started speaking again. "You've been accepted to become a servant because we had an unexpected opening. One that is imperative we fill almost immediately."

"Did something happen?" I asked since it seemed appropriate, and I was curious.

"She was killed." She said calmly as if murder happened regularly here. It may as well.

I went silent, my heart beating rapidly. I was instantly afraid, anxious for what was awaiting me inside these adorned walls.

"Miss Syndra," Kat started again, "you've been assigned to be the king's new personal attendant."

I froze, staring at her with wide eyes. I initially thought I heard her incorrectly, but the way she was looking at me proved that theory incorrect. I knew that you could not pick the job you were given inside the palace, but I never imagined I'd be selected as the foremost servant to the king.

I could feel the blood drain from my face. This was the worst-case scenario, and I managed to fall into it. Personal attendant to the king? It sounds like a respectable and very well-paying job for a Senkyan human. Little would one know of the rumors, of the stories, of the terrible things that go on inside the king's chambers. He was a tyrant, a devil, a sadist, a bloodthirsty monster waiting to sink his claws into a young girl.

Now I understood perfectly why and how the previous girl had been killed.

"But I'm a human!" I said indignantly. Surely he wants one of his own.

"He-- His Majesty prefers to have a human." Kat avoided my gaze.

"His liege does not want to be kept waiting." The grey-eyed male hissed, his sharp voice slicing through the air.

Kat nodded to him and turned away from me. Shortly after, the butler clicked his heel against the marble floors swiftly, beckoning me to come to him as though I were a domesticated animal. Without a complaint, I turned and followed him, keeping a safe distance, my eyes only focused on the sharp heels of his glossy black shoes.

Dear God, I silently prayed. Please do not send me off like a lamb to the slaughter.

But my prayers were in vain.

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