Updated: Sep 26
“Melody, put on your boots,” Bard chides.
I don’t want to put on my boots. I want to dance. But I can tell from the look on his face that my guardian is not going to suffer my mischief today, so I try very hard not to pout.
Usually, Jasmine helps me with my boots. She is the bondservant tasked with my care. In the mornings, she helps me dress and then gets my breakfast. After I break my fast she often lets me plait her hair. But she is late today, and I have dressed myself, except for my boots—I still struggle with laces.
Bard sighs and stoops down to help me.
He makes quick work of my boots and is rising with a grimace when the tent flap bursts open. I look over, ready to tell Jasmine that I have got ready without her, and then I see who it is.
I know that Winter is not my real mama, but I like to pretend that she is. I can only just remember my mama’s warm embrace and the way gold dust from her wings shimmered in the light, making me giggle when it landed on my nose. Winter is the only fairy I have seen since Bard helped me flee from my home, and it doesn’t matter to me that she doesn’t have wings.
“I’m taking her,” Winter says to Bard.
His eyes widen in response to her statement and, a moment after, his shoulders sag. He nods.
Her? She means me. I’m sure about it. “Are we going on an adventure?” I’ve had many adventures in my life, and I’m not yet six years old. “Where are we going? I haven’t had breakfast yet.”
The tent flap opens, and Jasmine enters… but without my breakfast tray. A frown is etched into her pretty face as she looks first to Bard and Winter, and then to me.
“Something is happening in the bondservants’ part of the camp,” she says to Winter. “And your guards have gone.”
“Are we going on a trip?” I ask, feeling impatient now.
“Get your cloak, Melody,” Bard says.
“Help her with her cloak, Jasmine,” Bard says in his firmest voice, usually reserved for my worst mischief.
We are about to have an adventure. I can barely contain my excitement. Jasmine tries to dress me in a cloak, which is difficult when I’m dancing about our tent.
Bard and Winter are talking.
A clamor rises beyond the tent walls. My brow furrows, for the sounds unsettle me. I hold still, so Jasmine can finish with my cloak. The noises outside remind me of the day the dark fae painted the Citadel’s walls with blood, and a tremor runs through my body.
Bard crouches before me, his hand on my shoulder. His expression is serious, as it often is. “Winter is going to take you away from here, Melody. You must be a good girl for her and keep very quiet.”
Beyond the tent, a rushing roaring swell of shouts and cries of alarm makes my tummy queasy.
“Are you coming?” I ask Bard, a little quiver in my voice.
His face softens and he shakes his head. “No, Melody, you must move swiftly, and I will only slow you down.”
“Will I see you later? After the adventure?” Except, now, I no longer think I will like this adventure, and tears sting the back of my eyes.
When he shakes his head again, my tears begin to spill. Outside, the rushing roaring sounds draw ever closer.
His face is very solemn, and I know that this is a sign that the darkness is coming for me once more.
“You must be a brave girl for me, Melody, like you were the day the dark fae came, when your mother and father entrusted me with taking you to safety. You trusted me then, and you must trust me now. Winter will take you to Sanctum, and you will see all the wonders she has talked to you about. I pray that you will indeed see them. I pray that I shall never see you again, for it will mean you are safe.”
I throw myself at Bard, the man who was once my bard but is now simply my protector. I have a terrible feeling that he is right—that this is the last time I will see him—and all my sadness spills out in great wracking sobs.
I cling to him. He holds me just as tightly.
“Your bard is old now, precious child. One day, I hope you will forgive me for some of the truths I have hidden from you. You are still too young to understand. When you are older, I pray that you will come to do so. But for now, you must be brave and go with Winter. She will take you to where you will be safe.”
He stands, urging me with a gentle squeeze of my shoulder to go to where Winter has her hand stretched out to me. My eyes are full of tears, and I can barely see. But I do as he asks, for I recognize that it is important that we go now. And so, although a part of my heart is being ripped away, I take Winter’s hand.
When I was little, I had a lot of nightmares—the legacy of a dark fae attack. Then the Blighten came and rescue-captured me from the fae. I lived with them for several years, under the misconception that orcs were good.
Orcs are not good. They used me—and the gift I have to work with portals—to prey upon innocent worlds to support their ever-hungry quest for blood and war.
That time ended when Winter freed me from the orcs and brought me to Sanctum, where a sweet breeder omega named Shiloh became my third and final mama. Mated to a warrior, she had four young alphas when I came to live with her. Two were her birth sons, and two were the adopted sons of her heart. The boys were kind and protective of me, and when I had trouble sleeping, I would ask one of them to stroke my hair, and ears—which are highly sensitive—until I could drift off.
I was a child then. I’ve started having trouble sleeping again, but now I’m a woman and something has changed. Having one of my adopted brothers play with my ears doesn’t comfort me anymore. Now it feels a tingly kind of good. And the last two times Zeke stroked the tips of my ears, I came.
It was a very quiet kind of coming, I must admit, because I was too embarrassed to say anything to him, or to anyone else. Also, I’m sure he would be shocked and would stop straight away if he realized, for Zeke is very sweet-natured.
My heart does not care that my mooning over him, or the others, is inappropriate on a thousand different levels—a strange, restless compulsion is building inside me, which draws me toward all my brothers in a very unsisterly way.
I’ve become addicted to them petting my ears. It’s all I think about all day as I listen to the portal scholar drone on about lore. I don’t need to learn about portals. I know everything instinctively—I could open a portal now if I chose to. I admit that I sometimes open one if no one is around and I want to get somewhere quickly.
“We will begin the visualization again,” the scholar calls. “Pair up.”
We all groan—visualizations are the most tedious part of all. We must hold a carry stone and project an image to our partner’s mind, which they verify or correct against pictures in the portal book.
Also, this is the time when the scholar finds important things to do in his study, which adjoins the classroom.
He is not doing important things. He is taking a nap. Today it takes all of five minutes for his snores to permeate the room.
Isabelle, my class partner, chuckles. “I think that was a record.” She is an imperial omega of lower rank because of her weak portal skills and low-potency blood.
She is also my best friend.
“Did I see Marcus sneaking out of your room this morning?” Juliet asks Athena at the table next to ours.
There are eight omegas in our class— thanks to Athena’s mischief, all of them hate me except for Isabelle.
Sanctum is all about status and ranking. The Chosen—powerful beings—stand apart like gods at the very top of society. Below them is the king. Below the king are the imperial omegas with their powerful blood, and below them are the warriors. At the very bottom are the feeder and breeder omegas.
All fairies are omegas, just as all warriors are alphas.
Our class is for imperial omegas who will one day command warriors on important quests. I am one of the younger ones at nineteen, although our ages range from eighteen to twenty-one. My problem is that I feel like an imposter being here, and I am not alone in thinking that. There have been more than a few pointed comments from Athena that I’m not an imperial omega at all since my blood offers no special enhancements such as stamina or strength. It does not even provide healing like a feeder omega.
It offers nothing at all.
So here I am among imperial omegas, an interloper who can make portals without a keystone or a site in mind, which is not a very useful skill in Sanctum, where all that matters is the potency of your blood.
Athena is a natural beauty whose blood is said to offer outstanding benefits to the warriors she gifts. She has hated me ever since the king mentioned me in a public address not long after I arrived and started portal lessons. Athena thinks she is better than me because of her ‘superior’ blood. So she is insanely jealous that it was me who was mentioned by the king, not her. In addition to being hateful to me, she is spiteful to my best friend, Isabelle, who is the sweetest omega you could meet.
Athena has put glue in my hair, sabotaged my books and homework, and has spread many lies about me, saying that warriors disdain me because of my weak blood and that I have delusions of grandeur for being noticed by the king.
I wish the king had never mentioned me, even though I felt prideful at the time when he said how my portal skills were exceptional and important to Sanctum. Not that they have proved exceptional or important so far. As for my weak blood, it is a sore point with me. It is well known that warriors, while only too eager for the lowly breeders and feeders, are much enamored by those imperial omegas with potent blood.
Worst of all, I am particularly small and weak, and I have heard the portal scholar talking to Celeste, my omega mentor, telling her I’m unsuitable for quests.
So, not only do I have defective blood, but I am too pitiful even to aid the cause against the Blighten. Shiloh was convinced I would suddenly grow—I didn’t.
I’m effectively a lowly breeder omega with some small capabilities that are likely of little benefit beyond being a curiosity to the king.
There is nothing wrong with being a breeder. Shiloh, the mother of my heart, is a breeder, and she is a kind, joyful omega who took me in and showed me love. I will not hear a bad word said against breeders. I have already gotten into one fight with Athena as a result… which did not end well given that, in addition to being tiny, I have the constitution of wet parchment.
I tell myself I don’t mind my lowliness; only that is a lie. I would not mind my lowliness were I given classes with other omegas who are the same. Instead, I am forced to endure waspish omegas who take joy in putting me down.
“Not only Marcus,” Athena replies. “But Rodrick as well.”
A couple of the other omegas giggle as they listen in.
I admit, I am also listening in, as is Isabelle, who has been staring at the same picture on the portal book for long minutes and has yet to project a thing.
“Goodness, they are both strapping alphas,” Juliet says, fanning herself with her hand. “But I have got my eye on Draven and Aengus. I have heard they, too, sometimes share.”
With his midnight hair and bright green eyes, Draven is the definition of handsome. Then there is Aengus who is very much a barbarian in looks and ways with his blond hair shorn at the sides of his head and his rough beard. I know this is the way of things, that my brothers are desirable, accomplished warriors who catch the eyes of omegas of all ranks, but I don’t have to like it. My fists clench, and a small growl escapes my lips.
Isabelle grimaces as if sensing the disaster about to unfold. Past experience has shown that drawing Athena’s attention is a sure road to a pinched ear or a ruined course book.
Athena smirks as she turns to face me. “Fine warriors,” she purrs. “They are highly sought by imperials for quests, as is Theron. I’ve heard their mistresses command them to take their bodies as they take their blood. Soon, I will be going on my first quest. Celeste said she will petition for me to have the warrior of my choice.”
“You are so lucky that Celeste favors you,” Juliet gushes, redirecting Athena’s gaze. “There will be a trial soon, I heard, for a new alpha ascending to warrior rank. I have a friend who could sneak us into the warrior hall after. The celebrations that follow are wild, by all accounts. Imperial omegas would have their pick of the best warriors.”
I feel sick that these witchy omegas set their sights on my brothers. It is a small comfort that they have not lain with them yet.
“Hey.” Isabelle rests her hand over mine, stirring me from the well-scripted fantasy where I spirit Athena through a portal to some desolate place where monsters eat fairies for fun. “They are talking nonsense. No way would they be allowed to attend.”
“Unless a friend sneaks them in,” I point out.
A blush stains Isabelle’s cheeks, and defeat enters her eyes. She is sweet on a young warrior and, like me, would probably be reckless enough to sneak into the warrior hall for a chance to get closer to him.
Like me, she is also innocent. All we do is suffer Athena’s tall tales whenever the scholar naps.
A particularly loud snore is followed by mumbled words. All eyes turn toward the scholar’s open door. He often rouses himself when he snores loudly.
Footsteps follow, and we all pretend to be dutifully engaged in visualizations as he emerges into the classroom.
The rest of the day passes under tedium and the scholar’s watchful eye.
I know what is coming, at least for everyone but me.
A few months ago, there were twelve in the class. Now there are eight. We are all nearing the end of our training, and soon the rest will complete their first quests, marking their passage into imperial omega ranks.
Only I don’t know what will happen to me.
And I’m terrified that Athena, so pretty and capable, veins thrumming with her potent blood, will catch the eye of one of my brothers.
Excerpt, Melody Unbound © L.V. Lane
Coming to Amazon on 11th Aug!
❤️ Thanks to @softdraws for the stunning character art ❤️