1 Chapter 01 (Part One)

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NOTE: Text surrounded by asterisks (*) is supposed to be italicized.

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*What brings a man like you to this Kingdom, Kalypso?*

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The Queen sat in a bed of polished marble filled with bathwater with her slender arms stretched out and resting over the border. Her dark eyes scanned the room in search of someone until they met mine and she smiled. Her hair, akin to molten onyx, framed bone structure cut by gods if only she weren't a Goddess herself. The thick strands moved like Medusa's snakes, defying gravity against a face so sharp as to be striking.

When she spoke, her voice was unexpected – it was low, with an agreeable trace of huskiness and a hint of more power than her body would suggest.

She knew that whatever had brought me to her Kingdom had brought many other men before me, and she needn't guess or listen. She allowed everyone to feel in charge, guiding the conversation with unnoticed prompts until, seconds later, they would be jumping through hoops to please her.

Unlike these men, I know what you seek, your Grace, with an offer hard to refuse. I know him. The man, who was a clear head higher than most people I would consider tall, his skin darker yet warmer than mine or yours, and his hair a smooth caramel-brown. He was the living embodiment of beauty and brutality, having no desire to draw attention while his motives remained hidden, hence the allure.

You didn't want to stare, but your eyes kept flicking to me, green with envy as if a snake were crawling through your skull; or, perhaps, that was what I wanted to see. You, your Grace, are aware of what business runs between him and I, and yet, allow me to talk further.

When the trees danced and Iussus had decided to finally send the sun, I had ventured into the dark forest surrounding these lands, expected by elders to return before sunset, and with a doe in hand for a royal dinner dedicated to the dawn of my adulthood and huntsmanship.

In the search of prey, I had instead crossed paths with a predator; he, whose entrancing, wolfish eyes devoured my presence past thick trees. They were like carnelian stone, following me as I moved through the snow – promoting unholy imaginations and unclean desires I would've otherwise not known.

"It is rare that I see a hunter from the Northern Kingdom so young." His voice was bewitchingly deep and I wished he hadn't spoken at all.

With my guard high, I immediately reached over my shoulder to draw an arrow and settle it upon my bow. "And who are you?" I asked shamelessly as I watched his silhouette draw near, revealing his burly physique and age far greater than mine.

"A hunter, but from distant lands."

I could've sworn he was a few feet away when he avowed, but with the blink of an eye, the man was standing afore me – ignoring the bow that pointed eagerly towards his abdomen. As if he were an animal himself, his close presence and momentary silence tempted me to shoot him and serve him ruthlessly for dinner.

Alas, my naivety kept me frozen.

"Rumors of Versipellis called my name and I followed Their chants in hopes of bringing a beast's head home."

I pursed my lips as I listened to his velvety voice and my beating heart before a question tore from my throat as quick as light, "Home to where?"

Slowly, like ice sliding across a plate, he smiled.

"The Great Mountains of the East," he said.

Having not explored what resided beyond the Northern Kingdom then, I could hardly confirm nor deny his whereabouts.

You sent water into ripples as you chuckled, and the sound was a heavy stone falling into a shallow well. I was convinced I could read your Grace's mind because the only thought resurfacing now would be one I hadn't come across back then.

The East has no mountains.

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