The girl crept down the hall, drawn onward by the golden light that leaked out from under the office door.
Her master had forbidden her from ever entering the office unaccompanied by her, but she was gone, on a mission from the Crown, and it wasn’t really breaking the rules if the door was open, was it? Her curiosity told her no, but she stopped in front of the door, her hand hovering over the shiny crystal-cut knob. She’d be in so much trouble if she was caught. But her master was probably halfway across the country by now.
What was the harm? She only wanted to look.
Buoyed by her courage, she turned the knob, wincing; it was glacially cold. But she soldiered on, pushing the door all the way open. She clapped her free hand over her mouth to stifle a gasp. It felt like the room was so huge that the walls themselves were breathing, watching her with eyes she could not see. But she had stepped inside, and it would hurt her pride to turn tail and run now.
After all, her master hadn’t taken her on for no reason. And someday, she would leave her master and make her way on her own, maybe even work for the Crown, be an adviser to the Queen Herself. She closed the door carefully behind her and stepped further inside, half expecting the sigil engraved in the floor to start glowing.
But there was nothing, and her desire, red and warm inside of her chest and spreading roots, heightened; she’d spent most of her childhood and training years wondering what was in this room, having only seen brief glimpses of it. It was her master’s retreat, a space in which she was not welcome. Master always said that it was the one place where her apprentice wasn’t always underfoot, and the girl could never tell whether that was meant affectionately or not.
There was so much to look at, so many things that immediately grabbed at her attention, that it was overwhelming; perhaps this was she had been placed on permanent ban from this room. After all, she did have quite the knack for attracting trouble.
Her eyes were drawn first to the bright, spinning mobile of planets hanging from the ceiling, and she reached up toward them, wishing that she could touch them. She wandered over to the books next, dragging a finger across their broken, velvety spines. The titles were carefully stenciled in a rainbow of colors, some in languages she could read, others she could not. Frowning thoughtfully, she reached up and grabbed one, bound in sapphire-colored leather. She sidestepped the small stack of scrolls sitting beside the shelves and sat down in the worn, high-rising chair beside the piano.
She opened the book and winced when a bright, sickly green light poured from it, and a bright, female voice sounded from the pages, seductive and sweet, even though she couldn’t understand the words. She closed the book, her ears ringing from the noise, and returned the book to the shelf, her fingers tingling unpleasantly.
She glanced up at the bird cage and frowned; it was empty now, but there was old papers stuffed through the bars, on the floor, adorned here and there with bright, iridescent feathers. As far as she knew, her master didn’t care for animals, one or the other. So what kind of bird was kept in here? She must’ve taken it with her.
All of these years and she still felt like she barely knew the woman who’d practically raised her from childhood. It hurt, and she gritted her teeth, trying to shove the sudden storm of emotions deep down, to where it could no longer touch her. She wasn’t a child anymore, and she would not be reduced to tears in one of the rooms she wasn’t ever allowed in.
She’d taken a risk, and she would not waste it dwelling on things she couldn’t change.
When she glanced up at the portraits on the walls, she could almost see them moving out of the corner of her eye, and she repressed a shudder with some difficulty. No wonder she felt like she was being watched.
She tiptoed over to the glowing fireplace, its flames dancing and spitting a song she couldn’t understand, and bent down to look at the statutes that sat on either side of it. She leaned in so close that she could brush the cool stone with her nose.
The silence was near unbearable, she thought, and sat up.
“Come closer, child,” A male voice cooed from inside of the fireplace, and she jumped, spinning around. She’d thought she was alone.