Poison Eater

Poison Eater

K. Kil worth

Prologue

The Roseworth Queendom is a magical place of magic users who can control the elements and is ruled by those immune to toxins, known as poison eaters.

Unfortunately, the poison eating gift has been lost for eons.

Not even the royal family is safe from such devastation, for the current queen and generations before her lack the gift.

She, Queen Tiana, had ordered a hunter to kil the princess out of fear of her stealing her crown. She promised that he would be rewarded heavily for his trouble as long as he brought back her heart. He brought her deep into the woods so nobody shal witness her fate. However, when it came time to drive the knife through her chest, he found himself unable to go through with it. She was innocent and only seventeen in age. He told her to run far, far away, so the queen wil never be able to nd her. He had brought a deer heart for his evil queen instead.

The hunter brought the heart, expecting to be rewarded in gold, an estate, or even a noble title, but the

queen had other plans. After placing the heart into an ornate chest decorated with gold and rubies, she retrieves a matching dagger.

"The people wil riot if they hear that their dear princess's kil er had gone unpunished," she claimed before piercing his heart.

Chapter One

Roseworth Woods

"She looks like she's on the brink of death."

"Hush Al ison," Alessia shoos her younger sister out of the room. "Tend to the stew, she's going to be very hungry when she wakes up."

Alessia had found a girl around her age in the woods asleep. Because of the deer in front of her, she almost shot the girl. Thankful y the arrow only hit the tree she was resting on. She is very pretty with deep black hair and ice-blue eyes and a pale complexion.

The girl is resting in Alessia's room. Alessia is steeping tea for her, but she expects it to be cold by the time she is able to drink it.

Of course, the tea grew cold. It has been sitting for twenty minutes anyway. Alessia stands to check on the stew,

but just as she gets to the door she hears rustling from the bed. She turns and sees the girl sitting up.

"Oh, hel o," she says to the girl. "How do you feel?"

"Tired, but otherwise okay. Where am I?"

"You are at the Elrod cabin in Roseworth Woods.

Do you have any family nearby?"

"I do, but I can’t go back home."

"Then you may live here if you like."

"Thank you, what is your name?" The girl asks.

"Alessia. My younger sister, Al ison, is preparing stew. What is yours?"

"Mine?"

"Your name."

"Oh, right, it’s Mabel a."

They both get to know each other until Al ison cal s Alessia to dinner. Alessia assists Mabel a in standing up, despite Mabel a's protests.

"Why didn't you get me when she woke up?"

Al ison pours the stew into three bowls instead of the usual two.

"She just woke up, and someone had to watch the stew," Alessia l s three glasses with water and sets the table.

"Her name is Mabel a."

They al sit at the table and eat their food. Al ison spoons some of the stew into a bread rol .

"Is this beef?" Mabel a asks before taking a bite of the potatoes.

"Maybe," Al ison stabs a piece of meat with her fork.

"What do you mean "maybe?""

Alessia rol s her eyes, "we forgot to label the meat after our last hunt, so this may be beef or venison, possibly bear."

"Oh, alright."

Mabel a gathers the used bowls, "I can wash the dishes."

"What? But you are our guest," Alessia attempts to take the dishes from her hands, but Mabel a dodges her. "I wil clean them."

"Nope!" Mabel a runs to the stove so she may use the hot water.

Alessia sighs, "then I guess I wil sweep the oor.

Al ison, clean the table."

"Yes, sister."

"Alessia, having taken the sofa and leaving the bed for Mabel a, rol s in her sleep until she eventual y fal s onto the wooden oor. In standing, she realizes that Mabel a is not in the bed, but rather in the kitchen.

"Mabel a, what are you doing up?" She sits next to her at the table. Mabel a had made herself some tea and is sitting in the dark without a candle. Luckily, the moonlight is just bright enough that she can see what is in front of her.

Mabel a sips her tea, "I could not sleep, too many thoughts."

"About how you got here?"

"Yes."

"How did you get here?"

Mabel a takes a deep breath. That, how she got here, she had not processed yet. It is stil hard to believe. Her own mother had declared her execution, yet she is stil alive.

"My mother, the queen, attempted my death. She ordered a hunter to do the deed in these very woods."

The fact nal y sets in, and Mabel a's eyes start to water. It is a good thing it is so dark, or else Alessia would notice.

"I'm sorry Mabel a, or Princess Mabel a," Alessia awkwardly chuckles.

"The hunter couldn't go through with it. My own blood wanted me dead but a stranger couldn't," her voice starts to tremble. "I almost wish he did."

Alessia comforts Mabel a, holding her in a tight embrace and al owing her to sob al she likes. She strokes her soft, dark hair, "it wil be okay, love. We can get back at her eventual y."

"No," Mabel a sni es. "I just want to move on."

"If that is what you wish," she kisses Mabel a's cheek before pul ing away. "We better get to bed, we wil be traveling to the market tomorrow. We wil need to nd you a few tting out ts."

Mabel a nods in response, stil a tad teary. Alessia leads her back to the bedroom.

"Why don't you take the bed? I doubt I wil be able to sleep either way," Mabel a suggests.

"No, you are the guest here-"

"Oh, again with the guest thing?" Mabel a sighs dramatical y, "we both can take the bed. Good?"

Alessia rol s her eyes, "alright ne. Only for you, your highness."

Mabel a giggles at Alessia's great sarcastic tone.

"Al ison, I need you to watch the house while we are gone. Got that?" Alessia turns to face her sister, but she is playing with a smal white kitten. "Al ison, did you hear me?"

"Yes yes, watch the house," she picks up the kitten.

"Can we keep her, sister?"

"Alright, feed her some of the milk in the icebox."

"Thank you!"

Alessia waves goodbye to her sister as she turns back around. Mabel a takes her arm as they begin walking, smiling at the ground.

"What," Alessia starts and Mabel a begins to giggle,

"is something funny?"

"You are a good sister, Sia."

"Hardly, but Sia?"

"Yup, that is what I am cal ing you."

Alessia laughs, "what for?"

"You gave me a nickname, so you get one too,"

Mabel a smiles brightly, ear-to-ear.

Alessia laughs harder, almost cackling, "I cal ed you

'your highness,' it is hardly a nickname," she icks Mabel a on the head. "Bel a sounds much better!"

"Mmm, yes, it does," Mabel a hums and looks at the sky. "What kind of clothes should we look for?"

"Anything you like."

"That is going to be a slight chal enge."

"Hm?"

"I've worn maid clothing nearly my entire life."

"Why? Aren't you the princess?"

"Yes, but my mother never real y liked me. Though I never expected her to try to kil me," Mabel a rests her head on Alessia's shoulder as they walk. "It only got worse after my father's death."

"Hm. I stil can't see why you don't want revenge."

"I don't know, I guess I just don't see the point in vengeance on someone who was too cowardly to kil me herself."

"Ha."

Chapter Two

Rosary Hil Market

"Princess Mabel a, welcome to Rosary Hil Market!" Alessia gestures to the marketplace with her free arm, their arms stil joined together. "We wil need to nd you at least two pairs of pants, and the rest can be whatever you desire."

"Pants?"

"Yes."

"I've never worn pants before."

"Wel , they are very comfortable."

"Hm," Mabel a hums a sweet toon as they walk through and observe the stal s. "Are we real y only here for clothes?"

"Wel , for the most part," Alessia stops at a stal l ed with hunting gear. "These trousers are nice."

"They have so many pockets."

"The more the merrier, Bel a," Alessia alerts the clerk. "What are the measurements for these trousers?"

As Alessia discusses sizing and prices with the clerk, Mabel a spies Countess Adelaide. A noble lady who knows exactly who Mabel a is, "excuse me, do you sel cloaks?

Cloaks with hoods."

"Don't you see I am speaking with a young lady already?" The man scolds, causing Mabel a to become more panicked.

"She is with me, it is ne," Alessia defends. "Do you sel cloaks with hoods?"

The man passes over a dark, forest green cloak,

"that, along with the trousers, wil be 10G"

"Thank you, sir," Mabel a hurriedly throws on the cloak and hood, hopeful y, quick enough that Lady Adelaide did not notice her.

"Are you real y putting that on now? It's blazing outside," Alessia takes Mabel a's arm again.

"A noble lady is at the stal over there," Mabel a glances in Adelaide's direction. "She knows who I am and could easily tel my mother that I am alive."

"Oh," Alessia mutters before pul ing Mabel a into a tent. She walks up to the woman, "do you have any daggers?

I need two dul and two sharp."

"Daggers? What do we need daggers for?"

"Wel you need some form of protection," Alessia releases her arm. "Look around, just don't leave the tent."

Mabel a nods in response. She spots a stand ful of colorful teacups, vivid red, green and yel ow. The yel ow ones are her favorite, she has always loved the color.

Final y, Alessia is done with the clerk, "I'm sorry I took so long, she had to dul the knives for me. They can stil be dangerous, just not as much as the sharp ones."

"It's okay, I was looking at the cups."

"The teacups?"

"Mhm."

With their arms now conjoined again, they migrate towards the food section of the market.

"Are we actual y buying food?" Mabel a looks at al the food. There are many delicious meals made of chicken, beef, and pork.

"Might as wel , or else we'l be starving by the time we get home."

Mabel a spots a stand with what appears to be chicken glazed with an orange sauce. "Sia, look," she points at the dish. "Let's check that stal out!"

She drags Alessia by the arm before she could answer. "Excuse me," she politely says to the man, "what is this dish?"

"Roasted duck with bigarade sauce."

"Bigarade sauce?"

"A bitter orange sauce. Two plates are 4G."

"Mabel a turns to Alessia, "does that sound good?"

Alessia smiles and nods before handing the man the money. "I've never had bigarade sauce before, but it sounds delicious." The man passes two, fresh plates of food to the girls.

"Thank you!"

"Oh goddesses, I'm ful ." Mabel a hugs her stomach, "but the duck was tasty."

"It was," Alessia chuckles. "So, do you like teacups or something?"

"Not particularly, but they were more interesting than the weapons."

"Ah."

"I love the color yel ow, though."

"Good to know."

"Hm?"

"Oh," Alessia plays with her glove, "Al ison and I are going on a trip in two days. Because we didn't know that you would be with us, we only have enough gold for the two of us. Unfortunately, you wil have to stay at the house, so I thought about bringing back a souvenir for you."

"Oh, okay," Mabel a sips at her water.

"I'm surprised, you're not upset?"

"I enjoy solitude on occasion, so I wil be ne. How long wil you be away?"

Alessia grabs Mabel a's hand, "only a few days, less than a week. Are you sure you wil be good al alone?"

Mabel a nods with a reassuring smile. She had been alone for most of her life already, surely she can handle herself a little longer, right? I mean, a few days are nothing compared to twelve years.

"Hey, love?" Arm in arm, Alessia nudges Mabel a's ribs delicately with her elbow, "Would you be up for training tomorrow?"

"Training? What for?"

"With the daggers, wel , the dul ones. It wil be more of a test real y, just to see what you know."

"Yes, as long as we don't use the sharp ones."

"Of course, we wouldn't want a scar on your awless complexion," Alessia leans to kiss Mabel a on the cheekbone and Mabel a's cheeks ush.

"Sia!" Mabel a giggles playful y as Alessia continues to kiss her cheek, "stop, what if somebody sees?"

"Let them see, I am doing nothing wrong," Alessia smiles proudly as she retracts from Mabel a. "To them, I am just being a ectionate towards my close friend."

"Ah, yes, I guess that is how it seems." Mabel a eyes Alessia with curiosity. 'To them,' she said, is that not what it was to her? Just a ection for a close friend? It is true: they are close friends, even after only a few days, but this doesn't feel like something that "just close friends" would do.

However, Mabel a pushes the questions into the deepest caves of her mind and attempts to focus on something else.

They are almost home anyway.

"So where are you going?"

"Huh?"

"For the trip."

"Oh, Lake Cyanide. Every year the town hosts a great celebration for Queen Carina's birthday. There are many games and shops there. Hopeful y, I can take you next year, I think you wil like it."

"Why do they stil celebrate her birthday? She is long dead. Is it not insulting to the current queen crowned?"

"She was the last queen with a poison eater gift. It was very powerful, she could eat the deadliest poisons.

However, as she aged, the gift grew weaker. She drank some hemlock tea and was found dead in her study. Her daughter, only fourteen, had to take the throne. She was the rst queen to be born without the gift, and unfortunately, I doubt we wil see the last any time soon."

"I wonder why the goddesses took away our gifts."

"Because the Goddess Calysta can see into the future, many believe that she saw Queen Amandine betraying her. As a result, she never gave the gift to her. As a punishment or a precaution, we have no idea."

"Hm," Mabel a leans her head onto Alessia's shoulder. "Oh look, we're home."

Alessia laughs, "so enthusiastic, Bel a."

Mabel a rol s her eyes, almost fal ing asleep on Alessia, "I'm exhausted."

Chapter Three

Queen’s Castle

"Your Majesty, Countess Adelaide requests an audience with you."

"Yes, she has been waiting for hours. Tel her to go home because I am grieving."

"She says that it is urgent."

Queen Tiana sighs heavily, as she nishes her wine.

"Al ow her in."

As Countess Adelaide enters the queen's chambers, Queen Tiana gestures to the chair across from her.

"My queen, I apologize for interrupting your grieving, but I believe you have a right to know."

"Know what?"

"Princess Mabel a is alive. I saw her in Rosary Hil Market. She was with a girl, Lady Hannah's eldest daughter."

"What? You're lying." Queen Tiana goes to sip at her wine until she realizes her glass is stil empty, "maid. Fil my glass, and l a second one for my guest," The poor maid obeys without question.

"Fortunately not, your majesty. Your daughter is alive."

"Hm," her Majesty gulps half of her now- l ed glass.

"First Lady Hannah fraternized with and kil ed my husband, and now Alessia kidnapped my daughter. What’s next, Al ison comes for my head? I might as wel arrest her too, there is no doubt that she wil end up betraying the crown as wel ."

"The Elrods are an exceptional y o ensive family."

"Indeed."

"I fol owed them, the Elrod girl told Mabel a that they are going on a trip without her in two days. I believe that would be the best time to retrieve your daughter."

"I believe you are right, Duchess Adelaide."

The young maid hurries down the hal of the maid's quarters, searching for her friend's room.

Final y, she nds the room and bursts through the door, "Susan!"

"Clara! I swear, don't do that," Clara had startled Susan, it happens much too often.

Clara quietly apologizes before whispering, "I have wonderful news."

Susan closes the door, "why are you whispering?"

"Princess Mabel a is alive," she grabs her friend's hands, "it is a miracle!"

"Didn't the hunter come back with her heart?"

"It must have been from somebody else."

"But how do you know?"

"Adelaide saw her with Lady Hannah's daughter, Alessia, in Rosary Hil Market."

"Oh, goddesses."

A knock on the door rings through the room,

"orders from the queen! We are to col ect poisons for the Roseworth woods and bring them directly to her Majesty."

"Hm," Susan hums as she and Clara put on their gloves. "What do you think she needs the poisons for?"

"To kil the princess, probably."

"Right. So are we actual y going to give her poison?"

Clara rol s her eyes, "what else would we do? She would have our heads."

"Alessia lives in the Roseworth Woods, right? Why don't we nd her? Surely she would know where Princess Mabel a is."

"I hope so."

As Susan picks some deadly nightshade, Clara is distracted by the thought of nding the princess. She looks al around her every few seconds, hoping for her to appear.

"Relax, Clara," Susan places the many plants in her bag. "She isn't going to come out of nowhere."

Clara sighs, "I know, I know." She places the few berries she picked into her bag, "I just hope she is real y here.

I can't imagine Queen Tiana ruling for much longer: she is too cruel."

"I bet Princess Mabel a is just as cruel as her mother.

How can she not be?"

"But her father was kind. If her mother’s cruelty spread to her, wouldn’t her father’s heart?"

Susan rol s her eyes, "you are new, Clara. You have not met her Highness, I have. She never spoke, and when she did, she pushed everybody away. Us maids were nothing but kind to her. She didn't even have a reason."

"She did, though. She is royalty."

"And that gives her an excuse to be rude?"

"No, but she was forced to play a maid when in reality, she is the heir of Roseworth. It must have caused her to build up some anger and resentment. Not to mention, you only became a royal maid three years ago, correct? I’m sure some of the maids tried to gain something out of her. It happens al the time with the head maids, remember?"

"That could be true, but it is stil no excuse."

"No, I guess not. Though I would stil prefer her over Queen Tiana."

"Would you? She has no experience, no teaching, that is not something I would want in a queen."

"What would you want in a queen?"

"I would want her to be blessed by the goddesses, for her to have the poison eating gift, but I doubt that wil

happen now. How long has it been now? A few thousand years at least. I do not think poison eating wil ever be restored at this point."

"At least we stil have the elements."

"Sure, but for how much longer?"

"Susan, the elements were a gift from the goddesses for giving us insu cient land, they wil not leave us. Poison eating is a blessing."

"Maybe it wil , if we disrespect the goddesses enough."

Clara laughs, but when she thinks about her friend’s words, she wonders if that is why the blessing was taken away. What if Queen Carina, or even Queen Amandine, disrespected the goddesses? Though she may never know, she can not help but wonder. Susan continues to pick poisons, this time she picks buttercups.

"Wil you tel the queen that I am unwel ?" Clara starts to assist Susan’s buttercup picking.

"What for? I am not lying to the queen for no good reason, she would have our heads for even considering lying to her."

"I want to nd Princess Mabel a. I can’t do it if I am in the castle working for her Majesty."

"Fine, but you owe me."

Clara nods as thanks, "I wil come back to the castle with you, but only to nd out what she plans to do. She is always foolish enough to write her plans in a notebook without locking it away."

Clara knocks before entering Queen Tiana’s chamber, "Queen Tiana, your Majesty, I present the poisons picked today by my fel ow maids and I. We have brought back heaps of deadly nightshade, buttercups, water hemlock, white snakeroot, and elderberry."

Queen Tiana sits on her sofa, drinking yet another bottle of wine while writing in her journal. White this time, in a large glass while in her black nightdress. Countess Adelaide drank too much wine that morning and spilt the deep red wine onto her Majesty’s white, silk gown.

"Place them on the table." The queen swal ows the last of her glass, "fetch me another bottle, girl. Red, and clean this room when you get back."

Clara nods before grabbing a bottle from the kitchen. However, when she returned, the queen was fast asleep, with her journal beside her. So, she does what any sensible person would do: read the queen’s diary. As expected, she wrote out her entire plan, sort of. Queen Tiana’s writing is just a load of drunk babbling and scribbles, she could only read the words "poisoned apple"

and a few insults directed at an unknown person. Clara sets the book just as it was before and begins to clean. She just needs to get through the rest of today without anyone suspecting her.

The next day, Clara was already long gone. She might have already found the princess, or she might stil be

searching for her in the humid woods. Susan and another maid walk to the queen’s chamber. The other maid had seen Clara running out of the castle, so Susan was forced to l her in. They are about to inform her majesty of Clara’s

"il ness."

"Isabel and I must speak with her Majesty immediately," Susan says to the queen’s guard, "it is regarding her maid, Clara."

The guard announces their visit to Queen Tiana, and she al ows them in. "What about Clara?"

Susan clears her throat before speaking, "the poor girl has fal en il . She was the one to gather the most poison, it must have seeped through her gloves."

"Hm," the queen, drinking some ginger tea, raises her eyebrows. "Such a shame, she was truly my favorite maid."

"Forgive my interruption, my Queen, but she is not dead just yet. She is only il , I’m sure it is early enough to save her," Isabel pipes up.

"That may be true, ne then, go. Fetch one of the royal physicians, see to it that she receives the best care."

Both the girls start to head out, but Queen Tiana stops Susan, "you, what is your name?"

"Susan, your Majesty."

"Alright Susan, after you show the physician to Clara’s bedchamber you wil serve in her place."

"Of course, my Queen."

"What was that? "I’m sure it is early enough to save her." Are you trying to make our job harder?" Susan whispers as she scolds Isabel.

"I’m sorry! It was just so wrong that she didn’t even want to know if it was too late, I’m sorry!"

"Whatever, let us hope we can get the doctor to lie as wel ."

Isabel nods.

"You go grab the physician, I wil wait outside Clara’s bedchamber."

The physician approaches Susan, "is this her room?"

"Mhm, but I warn you, it is bad."

"I expect it to be."

Susan fol ows him into the room and locks the door behind them.

"Wel this is bad, she’s not here!" He jokes.

She awkwardly laughs, "yes, about that. She is actual y out looking for the princess."

He looks at her like she is crazy, "Princess Mabel a?

She is dead."

"No, she isn’t. She was seen by Countess- sorry, the Duchess Adelaide with Alessia Elrod."

"Okay, if she isn’t here, what should I tel the queen?"

"Tel her that Clara wil need daily checkups by you, and you only."

"Why? What’s in it for me?"

Susan sighs, "I cannot promise anything, that would be up to Mabel a, but if Clara nds the princess we wil return her to the castle. Not as a princess, but as queen, and wil need a medic on our team."

"Fine, I wil do anything to get this bitter woman o the throne."

Chapter Four

Cottonmouth Plains

Mabel a dodges Alessia’s attack, swiftly and cleanly.

"You know more than you let on, your Highness."

"I can dodge, but I don’t know how to attack."

Alessia laughs, "not yet, but you wil ."

Alessia taps Mabel a’s chest with a dul blade, as if she were stabbing her.

"Ah, wel I’m dead."

"Ha," Alessia sips from the cantine then hands it to Mabel a. "I know I have asked you nearly a mil ion times now, but are you sure you wil be ne on your own?"

"Yes, I wil be okay. I can handle myself for a few days."

"I don’t doubt that, I am just worried that you wil be lonely."

"I wil have Al ison’s kitten to keep me company, I wil be ne."

Mabel a sits on the ground in the tal grass. As Alessia puts the dul daggers away in her bag she warns Mabel a to be careful, there are cottonmouth snakes al around, it’s cal ed the Cottonmouth Plains for a reason. But then Mabel a feels a sting on her ankle, she inspects it and nds a bite. However, the bite is not swel ing like Alessia said it would, so maybe it is not from a cottonmouth.

Thankful y, her skirt is long enough to hide the wound. She doesn’t want Alessia to worry, she can just clean it when they get home.

"Are you ready to go?"

"Mhm," Mabel a stands up, but Alessia hears something in the woods, "what is it?"

"Hush," she says as she pul s out the sharp dagger.

A short and slim girl wearing royal maid attire exits the woods and tries to approach the two before she hesitates because of Alessia’s knife.

"Woah, hey- I’m not here to hurt anyone."

Alessia doesn’t move, waiting for the girl to dare to get closer so she may strike her, "you are wearing royal maid attire, how do I know you aren’t here on Queen Tiana’s behalf."

"You don’t, and you won’t, because I cannot prove that I mean no harm."

Mabel a walks past Alessia and up to the girl, "what is your name, and what do you want?"

"My name is Clara, and I want you to take your rightful place on the throne."

Clara cleans the pots and bowls that were used for their porridge breakfasts. She had slept in the guest bedroom that Alessia and her sister were preparing for Mabel a, though Mabel a didn't mind. She said she prefers to sleep with Alessia anyway. Alessia stil doesn't trust her, mostly because she is from the castle. She wanted to force her to leave, but Mabel a convinced her otherwise.

"I hid your daggers under the bed, there is also some gold," Alessia whispers to Mabel a. "Just in case."

Mabel a nods, taking Alessia’s hands, "do not be worried about me, I wil be ne." She kisses Alessia’s head,

"now go and enjoy your trip."

"I wish you were coming along instead of staying home with someone untrustworthy."

Mabel a drags Alessia into the hal so Clara wil not see.

"Sia, I wil be okay, there is nothing to worry about," she pul s Alessia close. "Have fun on your trip, and don’t forget to bring me a souvenir."

She gives Alessia a soft and sweet kiss on her lips.

"Bel a," Alessia hugs Mabel a and holds her in a loving embrace for a few moments before pul ing away.

"You’re right. I wil see you again soon, please be safe."

She kisses Mabel a one more time before leaving with her younger sister.

Mabel a returns to the kitchen to sweep the oors, but Clara tries to stop her.

"You shouldn’t sweep, your Highness. You are supposed to be crowned soon."

"I do not want to be crowned, and even if I were to be, I am not yet."

Clara sighs, " ne, but please leave the heavy duties to me."

Mabel a nods and nishes sweeping.

Mabel a lays on the sofa with the smal white kitten in her lap while Clara bathes upstairs. The cat runs when there is a feeble knock on the house door. She opens it to see an old lady carrying a basket with a single candy apple.

"Can I help you, miss?" Mabel a asks.

The old lady nods, "yes, you can. Take this apple, it is my last one!"

"Oh, no, thank you. I do not-"

"Please, young lady. They are free."

"No, no thank you," Mabel a attempts to shut the door, but the old lady pushes the door back open.

"Take the apple, girl. Take it!"

Mabel a sighs angrily. "Fine. Give it here." She takes the apple from the basket, planning to just throw it away when the lady leaves.

"Take a bite."

"What?"

"Take a bite, watching the joy spread on your face is my favorite part of the experience."

Mabel a stares at the lady, wanting to slam the door in her face but also not wanting to hurt her. She takes a deep breath and a hesitating bite.

The apple itself tastes ne, but the "candy" coating tastes awful. It is sour, bitter and spicy with an odd sweetness. She tries not to gag at the taste.

Mabel a awkwardly nods before giving an insincere

"thank you," and slowly closing the door. She could swear that she saw the old woman give a sinister smile before disappearing behind the door.

She turns around to see Clara walking into the living room.

"Did you have a good bath?"

"I did, the water was nice and warm- What is that?"

She points to the apple.

"Just a candy apple from an old woman, it tastes horrible."

"Oh Goddesses, you actual y took a bite?"

"She wouldn’t leave-"

"Mabel a, it is poison."

Mabel a stares with confusion, "but I don’t even have a stomach ache, and how would you know about that?"

"I don’t know why you are not sick, maybe you have the poison eating gift, but the queen found out that

you were alive. She wrote that she would make you a poisoned apple-"

"And why didn’t you tel Alessia? Why didn’t you tel anyone?"

"I forgot, I’m sorry."

Mabel a takes a deep breath and sighs, " ne, but I want to make sure I actual y have the gift."

"How would you?"

"By eating poison, obviously. I’m probably going to rub some poison ivy on my hand before that, though. I can live with a rash for a few weeks but not the e ects of ingesting a variety of poisons."

"I have quite a bit of hemlock and bel adonna berries. The queen had tasked the maids with col ecting poisons for the apple. Also- I want to see if I have the gift as wel ."

"What, why?"

"If you have the gift, then wouldn’t others? Not to mention, when I was a kid I used to play by the edge of the woods. There was poison ivy there, so my mother would always have to pul me away. Even though she said it was dangerous, I stil touched the leaves and I was never injured."

"Okay, but let me test it rst. If I don’t have it then you de nitely won’t."

Clara nods.

It is barely night when the girls nish preparing their deadly feast. They cooked death cap mushroom soup, baked bel adonna tarts, and steeped hemlock tea.

"Wasn’t poison hemlock tea Queen Carina’s favorite drink?" Clara asks as she pours the tea into cups for the both of them, "have you tested the poison ivy yet?"

Mabel a nods, "I did, though I got no reaction."

"Neither did I."

They sit at opposite ends of the table, neither one of them wanting to be the rst. Slowly and nervously Mabel a picks up her cup.

She stirs in a bit of honey while shaking. After taking a deep breath, she sips at the tainted tea.

"So?"

"Wel , it’s good?"

"I mean how do you feel?"

"I don’t know, it’s not going to kick in right away, but I don’t feel sick just yet."

Clara then downs her entire glass of tea.

"What was that for?"

She shrugs before she grabs a bowl of soup. Mabel a is barely able to get a word in before she shovels the soup into her mouth, "Clara, why did you do that?"

"Just eat your food, your Highness."

Mabel a does just that, she gulps her soup and devours her tart. She even drinks a few more glasses of the tea.

"I didn’t mean for you to eat like a hungry wolf."

"At least now we wil know for sure if we have the gift by morning."

"Or we wil both be dead."

"Yes, or that. I wrote a letter to Alessia in case I die, I’m going to put it on her desk."

"Mhm, but rst, if we do survive, what are we going to do?"

"I do not know, I haven’t thought about it. Give me some time and I wil let you know.

"Of course, I wil clean the dishes."

"Are you sure you do not want help?"

"I am sure, now go sleep your Highness."

"Thank you."

"If we do survive, what are we going to do?"

Mabel a truly hadn’t thought about it. Does she want a peaceful life or the crown? Or does she want something else? Not even three days ago she was swearing she would never take the crown, but now she is unsure.

Her mind wanders to earlier that day, back to when she kissed Alessia. She half regrets eating the poison, because if she were to die, she would be leaving Alessia behind. That would make it more of a "goodbye forever" kiss instead of a

"see you later."

Soon enough, her thoughts drift to nothingness and her mind goes blank.

Chapter Five

Queen’s Castle

Mabel a woke up in the dark room only lit by the bright white moon. She wonders if she is dead and if this is the afterlife.

Stil half asleep, she makes her way to the kitchen.

Clara never dumped the last of the tea from their deadly meal. Though that might have been dangerous considering its contents, even with how little is left.

She pours herself a glass, it real y did taste good yesterday. Surprisingly, it stil does.

She decides that if the sun rises and Clara descends from the stairs she wil believe that she is alive. For now, however, she wil enjoy her tea and the silence of what she believes to be the afterlife.

Clara, ecstatic to be alive without even an il ness, hastily runs down the stairs.

"Mabel a!" She cal s out, "oh! You’re awake already."

Mabel a nods with a blank expression, nishing the last cup of the hemlock tea.

"You don’t seem too happy about it, what’s wrong?"

"…I want my crown."

Two days later, Clara and Mabel a leave for the castle after they had eaten their breakfast: toast with bel adonna berry jam.

As Mabel a hides in the trees next to the back entrance, Clara sneaks into the maids quarters and she bumps into Isabel, a maid only slightly younger than herself.

After a gasp, Isabel pul s them both into Clara’s room that, luckily enough, is right next to the door to the outside.

"Are you crazy, Clara? The others could have seen you!"

"What? What are you talking about?"

"I know about Mabel a, Susan told me, I saw you leaving so she had no choice. Anyway, the physician wil be here soon, he also knows. He is on our side."

Clara sighs relieved, "good, because we’re about to get a new queen."

Clara, Isabel, Susan and the physician meet up in Clara’s room under the guise of a checkup, and before she reveals everything, she asks Isabel for a favor: "Oh Isabel, can you please retrieve a bottle of tainted wine and two glasses from the wine cel ar?"

"What for?"

"You’l see."

Susan leaves to get the wine, and Clara has a task for Susan, "Queen Mabel a is hiding outside in the trees, go and get her for me?"

"Queen Mabel a?"

Clara nods. "She is ready to take the throne, her birthright, so we might as wel cal her by her rightful title."

"Okay, got it."

The physician speaks up, "what should I do?"

"You? Tel me your name, I’ve never met you."

"Valentino Martinez, or Dr. Martinez."

"Hm, I’m Clara," she and Valentino shake hands.

"So you actual y found her?"

"Obviously."

Mabel a enters the room wearing her forest green cloak, "do they know yet?"

"No, I haven’t told them yet," she says as she shakes her head.

"Told us what?"

Susan enters before Isabel with the wine and glasses. Clara sighs and opens the bottle, pouring some for her and the future queen.

Mabel a picks up the glass and attempts to take a sip, but Valentino yel s, "stop! Are you crazy? It’s tainted!"

Mabel a rol s her eyes with a sigh and takes a sip, so does Clara, but she is giggling at Valentino.

Eventual y, Clara bursts into ts of laughter, "she’s blessed by the goddesses, you moron! I am as wel ."

"Are you sure the wine was tainted?" Susan watches the two girls as she holds her chest, as if she expects them to drop dead any minute.

"Wel I don’t taste poison, but the bottle says that it is tainted with arsenic." Mabel a pours herself another glass.

"Just like her mother," Susan thinks. An alcoholic.

One who wil drink glass after glass of wine and never stop.

Susan can’t even count the amount of times she ran to the wine cel ar for the queen in these past few days.

Clara gestures to everybody, "I forgot to mention, the girl with the black braid is Susan, Blonde bun is Isabel, and the physician is Valentino."

"It is lovely to meet you," Isabel curtsies to Mabel a, and Mabel a nods awkwardly.

"So, do you have a plan?" Mabel a asks hopeful y.

"You declared that you want the throne, yet you don’t have a plan?" Susan half scolds Mabel a.

"Not yet, no, but we wil make one when Alessia arrives home."

"Alessia?"

"Lady Hanna’s eldest daughter," Clara informs Susan.

"What help would she be?"

"She is skil ed in archery and martial arts. She is teaching me how to ght with daggers."

Susan sighs. "Alright, ne."

Eventual y Mabel a had to leave, so Clara is back to work.

"Welcome back, Clara. I trust the physician was good to you?"

"He was, your Majesty. Dr. Martinez took extra good care."

The queen nods. "Why do you wear gloves?"

"The poisons caused my hands to be scarred, my queen."

"Hm, but they are stil able to work?"

Clara smiles and nods. "Of course."

"Good. I am hosting a bal to lift the people’s spirits in just less than a month, the bal room wil need cleaning and my gown wil be intricate."

"What would you like the color scheme to be?"

"Burgundy and cream."

Clara nods in agreement. "Beautiful choice."

Chapter Six

Roseworth Woods

"Mabel a!" Alessia runs into the house while carrying her luggage, "Mabel a, are you here?"

Mabel a emerges from the bedroom. "Sorry, sorry, I just woke up."

"It’s noon, isn’t it?"

"Mhm."

Alessia laughs as she sets her bags down before hugging Mabel a.

She hugs back and kisses Alessia’s cheek. "So, did you have fun?"

"We did. We watched a play about star crossed lovers, ate good food, and bought a few souvenirs."

"Hm."

Al ison walks in. "Ew, get a room. This isn’t what I meant when I told you to make a move."

Mabel a bursts into laughter and Alessia’s face ushes. "Oh just go to your room, Al ison. Mabel a and I are going to make lunch."

"Yeah, okay."

As Mabel a stirs the pot of porridge Alessia emerges from the washroom and wraps her arms around her waist.

"So what did you do while we were gone? And where is that maid?"

"I sent her back to the castle, I’l let you know why when we have a bit more privacy."

"Hm," Alessia hums. "Okay, love."

She lets go of Mabel a and turns to chop apples.

Final y, when the porridge is done, Mabel a scoops each of them a bowl.

"Al ison! Come eat lunch!"

Mabel a lies on the bed and Alessia reaches under the bed for her brandy stash, but instead nds a bottle of bel adonna wine.

"Mabel a, what’s this?"

"Huh?"

Alessia holds up the bottle. "Bel adonna wine? You know that it’s poison, right?"

"Oh, yes, that. I was planning on tel ing you tonight-"

"Wel I found it, so tel me now."

Mabel a nods. "Queen Tiana, attempted to poison me with a candy apple."

"And?"

"We, Clara and I, found out we have the poison eating gift."

"Both of you?"

Mabel a stands and pours herself some wine into her water glass after dumping the water.

She takes a sip and o ers it to Alessia, "do you want to test it? Either with this or touching poison ivy."

"Touching poison ivy won’t work, both my sister and I are not sensitive to it."

"Then take a sip. Don’t worry, I have elixirs that cure most poisons from Clara."

"Most?"

"Relax, bel adonna is included in that list."

"Alright, ne, but I’m blaming you if I die."

Mabel a giggles. "Fair enough."

Alessia takes a sip and Mabel a grabs the elixirs, "I don’t feel anything."

"Wel it wil take a minute."

"Hm," Alessia sips again. "It tastes pretty good."

"Yeah," Mabel a takes the glass and drinks the last bit, "and it doesn’t seem to be a ecting you. With that and your tolerance to poison ivy, you seem to be a poison eater."

"Yes, it does seem that way. Let’s hope the reaction isn’t delayed."

"Ha, yeah."

Mabel a tackles Alessia onto the bed, laying on top of her and wrapping her arms around her. Al day the both of them have been talking and cleaning and cooking.

Mabel a also informed her that she plans to take the throne because of the queen's attempts on her life.

She then kisses Alessia before lying her head on her chest. "Sia, what are we?"

"What do you mean, love?" Alessia strokes Mabel a’s head.

"Our relationship, what is it? I don’t believe that we are just friends, I don’t know if I want us to be just friends."

"I think we are lovers."

"Even after such a short time?"

"I’ve seen it happen."

"Then, if you wish as wel , we are lovers."

"I do, Bel a."

She sweetly kisses Mabel a again.

"Hm, this reminds me," Alessia gently pushes Mabel a o of her and walks to her bag. "I bought you something."

"Oh?"

She pul s out a black velvet bag and hands it to Mabel a. When she opens it, she nds a bejeweled silver dagger with yel ow gems and a matching scabbard.

"What kind of gems are these? They’re gorgeous."

"Yel ow sapphires, it was the only yel ow thing I could nd that wasn’t hideous."

Mabel a laughs and kisses Alessia’s cheek. "Thank you, my love. I wil treasure it." She then wraps her arms around Alessia, pul ing her back into bed.

Chapter Seven

Amanita City

"Clara, what are we doing in Amanita City?"

"Shopping. Her Majesty is hosting a bal in less than a month and we need to order her dress, and Mabel a’s."

"Mabel a’s?"

"Yes. She wil be attending the bal . It is a masquerade bal , so she wil be ne."

"She wil be recognized, for goddesses’ sake."

"She wil not Susan, nobody has seen her in years."

"Duchess Adelaide did, she recognized her immediately."

"Wel the queen won’t, and Adelaide only recognized her because she wasn’t hiding too wel . This time she wil be careful."

"Does she know about this?"

Clara sighs, "she wil soon, but not today. Alessia wil be home today and I do not want to interrupt them."

"Oh my."

They walk into a boutique and nd a young brunette girl with a tight bun. "Excuse me, my name is Clara. I work for Queen Tiana and would like to order a custom gown for her majesty."

"Oh? What for? Didn’t the princess just die?"

"Yes, but she is going to be holding a bal soon in honor of her and to lift the people’s spirits."

"Hm, alright. Is that al ?"

"No, but we would need some privacy."

The seamstress looks curiously at Clara before showing her to the back room. It is dark, for it has no windows, so the seamstress lights some candles after tel ing the others to sit.

"So what else does the queen want?"

Clara clears her throat, "it’s not for her, it is for the princess."

"Princess Mabel a? She wants me to make a dress to bury her in?"

Clara laughs, "no, no, Princess Mabel a is alive, but the queen does not know. She can’t know. She is the one that ordered her death."

The seamstress leans forward in her chair. "Is this a joke?"

"Fortunately not, Madame Laurine, our princess is stil breathing, and she wants her crown. She wil be appearing at the bal ," Susan speaks up.

"How could she be alive? Her heart-"

"An animal’s heart."

"Ah. But that stil does not explain why I should betray her majesty, even if she attempted to kil her own daughter."

Clara sighs, "Queen Tiana fed her poison when she found out she lived, and she did not die even then. Princess Mabel a is blessed by the goddesses, and I fear what may happen if we do not get her to the throne."

"I wil make the dresses, but I want proof of her gift."

Clara nods, "eventual y you wil get it, but not today. A friend of hers wil be returning from a trip today."

"As long as I get it, now what colors?"

"The queen wil wear burgundy and cream, but Mabel a wil wear black with silver and yel ow sapphire accessories."

"Very wel ."

"I have just enough gold to pay for both gowns, it wil be delivered to you by tomorrow."

"Only pay me for one, surely the queen wil be suspicious of such a high price."

"I suppose so. I wil visit twice a week to view the dresses’ progress. I wil bring Queen Mabel a soon enough."

Madame Laurine nods in agreement, "pleasure doing business with you, ladies."

Susan and Clara view the shops, they al contain black cloth, jewels, ribbons and owers, and nothing of what they are looking for.

"There’s not a single shop sel ing anything yel ow?"

"No, they are al trying to show respect to Queen Mabel a. If only they knew."

A young lady looks at Clara in shock. "Did you just say Queen Mabel a?"

Clara looks to Susan for help, but Susan only sighs.

She nods hesitantly. "I did."

The young lady drops her broom and pul s the two into the ower shop next to them.

"Mama! We have to close the shop!"

Duchess Adelaide enters from the back. "Whatever for?" She notices Clara and Susan. "Oh."

After closing the shop, Duchess Adelaide sits the girls down and prepares some tea. "So what brings you two here?"

"Mama, I actual y heard them talking about Princess Mabel a- Wel they cal ed her Queen Mabel a."

"Oh you poor things, you are stil in denial."

Clara frowns, "what?"

"Princess Mabel a is dead, dear. The queen poisoned her."

Clara raises her voice angrily. "You knew? You knew and you didn’t stop the queen?"

"What could I do? I’m not a goddess."

Susan rol s her eyes. "Whatever, that doesn’t matter now."

"Susan-"

"Clara, shut up for a moment. Duchess Adelaide, and Lady Edith I presume? If Mabel a was blessed by the goddesses, would you support her in taking her birthright?

Or at the very least, not work against her?"

"Of course, but only you have some form of proof."

Clara sighs, "do you have any angel’s trumpet, oleander, maybe some buttercups or da odils?"

"I have oleander and buttercups, which one would you like?"

"How much are buttercups?"

Duchess Adelaide places the vase of buttercups on the table and Clara gives her the gold, "let’s hope this is enough proof for you." Clara grabs a handful of blossoms and pops them into her mouth.

"Clara!" The Duchess stands up in alarm. "Why would you-"

She swal ows the owers and wipes her mouth with her handkerchief. "I’m ne, Duchess. I have the gift as wel , which means Queen Mabel a must have it. I cannot have it if she doesn’t have it."

"Oh my goddesses, don’t do that again."

Susan giggles and Lady Edith sighs in relief.

Chapter Eight

Roseworth Woods (One Week Later)

Al ison stacks cases of her belongings onto the carriage. Today she, Alessia and Mabel a wil move into Elrod Castle, a tting place to hold the sacred queen. It is a smal castle, nothing like the Queen’s Castle. It is only a third of its size, but it wil do.

After stepping back onto the dirt road, Al ison spots a castle maid, Isabel, walking in from the forest.

"Isabel!" The young girls run to hug each other.

They have grown quite close.

"Hey Al i, is Mabel a here?"

"She’s probably sleeping with my sister."

"Wel I shal wake them, then."

"No, Isa, that is not what I meant."

"…Oh." Isabel’s face drops at the realization.

Al ison bursts into a t of laughter. "I’m sorry Isa, but that was too funny. You should’ve seen your face!"

"So you are not serious?"

"Oh, I’m serious. I wouldn’t disturb them."

"Ah."

Alessia pins Mabel a to the bed so she cannot leave.

"We should real y go, dear."

"But I don’t want to."

"Sia, love."

"Not just yet," she whispers.

"Fine, but only a moment more."

Mabel a rubs Alessia’s back, humming the same tune from the Rosary Hil Market.

"What song are you humming?"

"A lul aby, one my father would sing to me."

"Do you know the words?"

She shakes her head, "there were no words, just humming."

"Hm."

Alessia stands and throws on her navy dress, but not before Mabel a catches a glance at the marks from last night on her tan skin.

"Do we have to move today?" Mabel a asks, half regretting convincing Alessia to wake up.

"Yes, or else we won’t be able to attend the queen’s bal ."

"But that’s stil a week away."

"Yes, but the road to Amanita City is long. It is better to get there early than late."

"Alright, could you hand me my emerald dress?

The one that matches my cloak."

"Of course, love."

She places the dress on the bed, "I’m going to see if Al ison is awake."

"Okay darling," Mabel a gives Alessia one last kiss before she leaves the room.

Al ison and Isabel sit on the edge of the carriage, discussing the bal until Alessia walks outside.

"Done with your mistress, dear sister?"

Alessia rol s her eyes, "did you load your stu into the carriage already?"

"Mhm."

"Why is the ride taking so long?"

"You knew this would take a long time, Al ison, and it has only been a few hours."

Al ison rol s her eyes, "I’m stil bored."

"Alright, then. How do you want to decorate your chamber?"

"Oh, um, I’m not sure. Maybe I can nal y have a reading corner in my chamber?"

"Why not? I remember the bed chambers being quite large, but I was young. We left barely even a year after you were born."

"Ah."

"I know I would love a place for darts. What about you, Mabel a?"

"Oh, maybe a table dedicated to practicing medicine? I’ve always loved reading up on how di erent herbs and plants can heal a person. Did you know that hemlock is not only poisonous, but also used for treating breathing issues?"

"Yeah, it makes you stop breathing," Al ison jokes.

Mabel a snorts. "Yes, I suppose that is one way."

Alessia picks at her nails awkwardly. "So, what are your plans for the bal ? Other than just attending." she said.

"I plan on dancing with the queen with poison ivy oils on my hands and dress."

"Wouldn’t that give you a rash?"

"Oh no, Al ison, I have the same resistance to poison ivy as you and your sister."

"Oh, okay."

"I don’t remember poison ivy growing at the castle, how do you expect to harvest it?"

"Did you forget that we have the elements? I can blossom any plant, raise an ocean, bend re at wil , and form tornadoes that can destroy entire kingdoms."

"Right, I did forget."

"How could you be that powerful? I thought the elements were only to make up for barren land?"

"It was, but when the poison eating gift was taken away by Calysta, her wise older sister, Raina, strengthened

the elements for al of Roseworth. Especial y for the queens."

Mabel a opens the window and creates a slight breeze, "oh look, we are leaving the woods!"

Chapter Nine

Elrod Castle

Two days until the bal .

Mabel a is dragged by Clara into the dressing room,

"Queen Mabel a, the dressmaker is here with your attire."

"Oh quit it with that title, I am not queen yet."

"No, but soon."

"I am not kil ing my mother at the bal , Clara. I am only inconveniencing her with a horrible rash."

Madame Laurine has placed the future queen’s gown on a mannequin near the very large window that is covered in sheer yel ow curtains.

"Hel o, Madame Laurine, is that right?"

Madame Laurine curtsies, "you are correct, Queen Mabel a. I have your gown ready for you to try on. Please, let me assist you."

"I would rather have Clara help me, I have been using a poison ivy lotion I made for the past few days."

"I see, thank you for tel ing me."

The dress ts like a glove. The black silk is tied at her waist with yel ow ribbon, fal ing and aring at her hips.

She spins and the skirt twirls and glitters in the sun.

"It’s very pretty, Madame Laurine."

"Thank you, your Majesty. The pu y sleeves and squared col ar were a reference to the out t you wore in your last portrait. I hope that was alright."

"Oh my, I didn’t even realize. That is perfectly ne."

Madame Laurine sighs in relief, "good, good."

Al ison hu s and rests her head into her hand,

"sister, tel me why can’t we go with Mabel a to the bal ?

Wouldn’t she be safer with us, or at least you, there?"

"We are not going because Queen Tiana is hateful towards our family. She claims mother betrayed her, and there is no doubt in my mind that she claims I have betrayed her as wel ."

"I suppose she would be right. We are plotting to steal the throne, after al ."

"That is true."

Al ison sips her drink as her sister makes sandwiches. "So what are we doing while she is at the castle?"

"I thought we could go shopping, just the two of us. I need to pick a custom order from the jewelers for

Mabel a, then we can look around. Maybe we can go to that book shop you have always wanted to see."

"Oh! Yes, please, They have the nal book in the Skeleton Key Series."

Alessia smiles and packs the sandwiches into the wicker basket.

"Today we are having a relaxing picnic with Mabel a. We are al understandably stressed about the bal ."

Al ison nods. Alessia has been arranging the dress, the payments, the castle, al while hiding Mabel a’s existence.

Not to mention how worried she is for Mabel a, so many things may happen at the bal . And Mabel a, she has been busy poisoning herself so she may give her mother a rash.

"Where are we going to have the picnic?"

"Where do you want?"

"Don’t we have a garden l ed with yel ow angel trumpets like the painting that was above our replace?"

"We do."

"Let’s eat there!"

Alessia throws the table cloth they are using as a picnic mat onto the oor. Mabel a enters the bright garden from the door framed in branches.

"The yel ow owers are beautiful, Alessia. Did you grow them for me?" Mabel a sits on the cloth on her knees.

Alessia chuckles. "No, but I wish I could say that I did. My element is water with a touch of air. The castle’s

gardener grew them, it is only a coincidence that they are yel ow."

"Hm, okay."

Al ison takes the sandwiches out of the wicker basket then places them on a plate. "Mabel a, is yel ow your favorite color?

Mabel a nods and pours them al a cup of tea. She then pours syrup made of bel adonna berries into her and Alessia’s cups.

"What is that?" Al ison tries to grab the bottle after Mabel a puts it down, but Mabel a slaps her hand away.

"Poisonous syrup, you don’t want to drink it."

"Then why are you putting it in your tea?"

Mabel a looks at Alessia. "You never told her?"

"No, I suppose I forgot to." Alessia sips her tea.

"Mabel a and I are poison eaters, Al i."

"Oh, alright."

"That’s it? You’re not shocked or angry?"

"No, not real y. Mabel a is royal blooded and you are her lover. I believe the goddesses must have given you the gift so you are not separated because of it."

"Possibly."

"Actual y," Mabel a clears her throat. "Your ancestry is ful of powerful poison eaters. They were the highest of nobles. I read it in the library."

Al ison furrows her brows. "But I haven’t seen any book about our family, and I’ve searched every shelf."

"Oh, right, it was in the secret library."

"Secret library?"

"More of an o ce, real y. There was a desk with ink and parchment, and there were shelves ful of handwritten books and journals. Most were signed by Elizabeth Elrod, one of your ancestors."

"You’ve got to show us soon. After you are home from the bal , of course."

"I wil show you tonight, we do not know if I wil make it back."

Alessia smiles solemnly. "I hope you make it back."

"If you don’t, we’l torture you in the afterlife,"

Al ison jokes.

Mabel a laughs then she drinks her tea. "I never said I would die, just that I wouldn’t make it back."

"Then we wil torture you after we rescue you."

Alessia shakes her head. "So what else did you see in the secret library? Anything interesting?"

Mabel a shakes her head. "I only found books Elizabeth Elrod wrote. However, in those books, I read that she was Queen Carina’s advisor."

"Oh, that means we can possibly nd out more about her reign."

"Possibly. We can read her books together if you wish."

Al ison smiles and nods. "I would love to."

Mabel a leads Al ison and Alessia to the back of the library. As she searches the shelf she says, "look for a thick, green book titled History of Mathematics. Behind it should be a button."

"You do not remember where it is?"

"No, I wasn’t real y paying attention."

"Found it!" Al ison shouts. She removes the book and presses the button. There is a click and the shelves open like a double door, revealing a dark and echoey abyss.

They al walk down the dim hal with Mabel a leading the way. Mabel a lights the torches as she takes each step.

Al ison grasps her older sister’s hand. "Why do you think Elizabeth chose to hide the button with a math history book?"

"Because math’s history is boring, nobody would want to read it," Alessia says.

"I would!"

"Only you, baby sister."

Al ison rol s her eyes.

Mabel a pauses, causing Al ison and Alessia to nearly tumble onto her, she then lights the nal torches and slowly turns to them. "We’re here," she says before nal y opening the door.

Chapter Ten

The Day of the Queen’s Bal

Mabel a, in her fancy, poison soaked gown, walks around the bal room. Everyone is dancing and drinking, and the musicians are ddling away on their violins and cel os…

The maids are walking around with drinks on trays, but Mabel a does not see Clara, Susan, nor Isabel.

"Pardon me, madam, I would like to reach that drink that is behind you."

Mabel a steps aside. "My apologies, sir." When Mabel a raises her head she sees that it is Dr. Martinez.

"Valentine?"

"Pardon?" He looks at Mabel a, knowing he recognizes her voice, but not able to pin it on one person.

"I’m Mabel a?"

"Oh! Right, I knew I recognized your voice." He attempts to hug Mabel a, but she backs away.

"Are you stupid? I’m covered in poison!"

"Right, sorry."

"Have you seen my mother? She hasn’t shown herself once today."

"Maybe she’s pretending to mourn."

Mabel a giggles before drinking half of her champagne. "Does she real y do that?"

Valentino nods.

Final y, Queen Tiana enters through the large, golden doors. "My deepest apologies, everybody. I had a bit of a setback, but I am here now!" Clara is behind the queen on her left-hand side, she seems to not want to be seen.

Mabel a snorts. "A bit? It’s been over an hour."

Queen Tiana walks down the tal staircase. Her eyes zip around the room, looking for her next victim.

"Your Majesty, may I have this dance?" A man asks as he bows to her and o ers her his hand.

She accepts it graceful y, and they glide into the center of the room. The people that were dancing now form a circle around them, and they watch the pair in awe. The violins and cel os now slow and synchronize with the dancers. Nobody is brave enough to join them.

Soon enough the dance is at its end and the two separate from each other. The queen takes dance partner after dance partner, she dances with nearly everybody in the room. But then she stops, and nobody o ers her their hand.

Everybody is stil , waiting for somebody else to make the

rst move, until the queen sighs and struts to the table to take a glass of champagne.

Mabel a steps forward and curtsies. "Greetings, Queen Tiana."

"Who are you?"

Mabel a places her hand on her chest. "A lady who wishes to give her condolences. I am sorry for your loss, your Majesty." She bows her head while saying the last sentence.

"Did you know my daughter?"

"Unfortunately, I cannot say I was graced with such a blessing."

Duchess Adelaide speaks, "a shame, real y. She was a sweet girl." Mabel a hadn’t noticed her before, she is not real y sure how though. The duchess is hard to miss, she is usual y always talking.

"I say she was a ery little sprite. Her favorite element had always been re. She used to throw rebal s outside with her father."

"She sounds quite lively."

Queen Tiana nods. "I know I threw this bal in honor of Princess Mabel a, but al this talk of death is making me depressed."

Mabel a smiles and o ers her hand to the queen.

"Then may I have this dance?"

Susan and Isabel sweep and scrub at the dusty stone oors of the maids’ quarters. They purposely got themselves punished so that they may not be at the bal . Susan

misplaced the queen’s favorite bracelet and Isabel tripped and broke a bottle of red wine that was meant for the queen.

"Was Clara sent elsewhere?" Isabel props the broom against the wal and stretches.

"No, she was not punished. Queen Tiana claims that she is needed at the party." Susan drops the cleaning brush and sits up. She sighs.

"These hal s are so gloomy, I cannot wait to be out of here."

"That’s if Mabel a decides you are good enough to be promoted."

Isabel rol s her eyes. "Quit being a pessimist, Susan.

I am ne with being a maid, but having us live in such disgusting conditions is cruel."

"If we cleaned this place more often it wouldn’t be so disgusting."

Susan and Isabel spend the next few minutes cleaning. Clara walks into the hal in a hurry. "Everyone get in your rooms! The queen has been poisoned!"

The other maids that were left panic and run into their rooms. Susan and Isabel stand.

"Was it Mabel a?"

"Actual y, no. I don’t think so."

Isabel folds her arms. "What do you mean?"

"Mabel a said she only used poison ivy on her dress and gloves, but Queen Tiana had violent convulsions.

Thankful y she was taken out of the room before she began to vomit."

"Oh, goddesses."

Mabel a and her mother dance in the center of the room. She can feel everybody’s eyes watching and criticizing every move. Her steps are not as uid as she would like, if Alessia was here to see her she would have a t. Queen Tiana doesn’t seem to notice, though.

"You have icy blue eyes, just like Mabel a. They are beautiful."

"Thank you, your Majesty."

Queen Tiana actual y seems like she is going to cry.

She seems to be in pain.

"Your Majesty, is something wrong?" Mabel a puts on a concerned face, though she real y didn’t need to. Queen Tiana’s vision is blurry, and her mind is too absent to pay attention. Her limbs are weak and her cheeks are ushed.

"I feel il -" She is cut o with violent convulsions and gagging. Mabel a steps back in shock. The guests scream in horror as Clara runs to the queen’s side and pul s her away into another room.

Valentino pul s Mabel a’s hand and drags her out of the castle. "Leave, or you may be kil ed."

Mabel a turns to him frantical y and desperately. "I did not do that, Valentino. I didn’t."

"I know you didn’t, but they may blame you anyway, so go."

"What about your hand?"

"I’m a physician, I wil be ne."

Mabel a nods and runs into the woods. Valentino heads back to the party.

"Dr. Martinez, where have you been? Our queen is sick," Clara says as she confronts Valentino.

Valentino pul s out his medical supplies. "My apologies, Clara. I am able to treat her now."

Clara steps back and sighs. "Do you know what poison it was?"

"I’m not sure, I’m going to give her an elixir from Zaragon, they are known to cure any toxin."

Clara nods. The queen is unconscious on the bed.

"How did you get her to sleep?"

"She fainted after a few minutes."

"Ah."

Mabel a runs into the gates of Elrod Castle, and Alessia waits by the front entrance.

Mabel a cal s for Alessia while she runs to her lover.

Alessia quickly stands. "Bel a? What’s wrong?"

"She- Queen Tiana, was poisoned."

"Yes, I thought we planned that." Alessia hugs Mabel a in a comforting manner.

"No, she wasn’t poisoned by me. Somebody else did it!"

Alessia backs up and holds Mabel a’s hands. "What?

Who?"

Mabel a shakes her head, signaling that she doesn’t know. She doesn’t have a clue. "Take me to my chamber, and please, don’t leave my side."

Alessia nods and hugs the panicked Mabel a, taking her inside and to their bed chamber. She draws her a hot bath. They sit and discuss the events that took place at Queen Tiana’s bal .

Chapter Eleven

Elrod Castle

"My name is Elizabeth Elrod, today is the day after my twenty-third birthday. I start my journals the day after every birthday and I finish them on my birthday. I make them myself so I can make sure they have 366 pages, one page for every day. The extra page is for a title. I have been doing this since my thirteenth birthday. I believe it is good to have this introduction in the beginning of every book, just in case somebody comes across them. Queen Carina told me it was odd and unnecessary, as if the person who reads one of them will magically have all of them."

Alessia stops reading and ips through the pages.

Mabel a, who was searching for the other books while listening, asks if something is wrong. Alessia closes the book. "No, but she mentioned Queen Carina. The journal from her twenty-second birthday didn’t mention her at al ."

Mabel a shrugs. "Maybe she didn’t want to mix her work life and personal life." She moves to stand behind her lover.

"Maybe." Alessia skips to the middle of the book and continues to ip pages.

"Wait, turn back a page." Mabel a points to the previous page. "She wrote about a prince."

"The queen delivered a prince today, just this morning. She is displeased, possibly even furious. ‘Why would the goddesses curse me with this prince?’ I do not understand how she could be so upset. Her husband, King George, named the boy Anthony. Prince Anthony. It is a beautiful name, and it suits him. The goddesses are pleased. Queen Carina claims the boy will be weak. I honestly cannot wait to see her face at his trial."

"What trial?" Mabel a interrupts Alessia.

"Before the gift was taken away, princesses and princes would be out through a trial to test their gift at age ve."

"Alright."

Alessia searches for another mention of Prince Anthony, but al she found were mentions of his rst word.

Elizabeth real y loved this child as if he were her own.

Mabel a lifts Alessia from the desk chair by her hand. "Shal we eat dinner and relax with a hot bath?"

Alessia smiles and nods before wrapping her arm around Mabel a. They exit the secret library while joking and laughing gleeful y.

Meanwhile, Al ison is making friends with the hidden hal s and their doorways. She previously found one beside the door to the bathhouse. A bathhouse hidden under a bathhouse! It is white marble adorned with gold and emeralds. It is simply hidden behind a false wal in a storage closet. Of course, Al ison couldn’t do much in a bathhouse.

The bath wasn’t even l ed, for goddesses’ sake. There were no books to read, no knowledge to learn, so she continued on her search upstairs.

Al ison found a very few more. She found stairs under the stairs, which led to a bal room, a drawing room under the drawing room, and a great hal under the great hal . Each hidden room was more elaborate than its unhidden variant.

She is now pul ing every torch in the hal in hopes it wil open a doorway like in her fantasy books, but she is not in her fantasy books. No doorways open on either side of the hal . She sighs disappointedly, despite being exhausted.

She loves to explore, that is why she loved living in the Roseworth Woods and why she was excited to hear that Mabel a found a secret library. Though, she secretly wishes she found it rst. She also wishes she could’ve been at the queen’s bal , but she understands why she couldn’t. Al ison wonders if she has the poison eating gift, but she knows better than to test it. She doesn’t understand why Alessia was wil ing to test it so easily. She never explained it to her.

She said she didn’t know how to. It is natural to be curious about such a power, just as it is natural to be afraid of not

having it. That is why Al ison wil not test her luck, despite her immunity to poison ivy. That may be al it is.

She may be wil ing to test the gift another day, but for now she is exhausted. She curses the designer of the castle for making every room so far apart from each other as she makes her way back to her bed chamber.

Chapter Twelve

Bel adonna Forest

The Bel adonna Forest surrounds Amanita city.

The thickest of its trees are behind Elrod Castle, which is where Al ison is currently exploring. She temporarily lost interest in nding the secret rooms. She wil go back to them eventual y, she knows she wil , but for now she searches the forest. For what? Only the goddesses know. She is bored.

Alessia is busy planning their next move and Mabel a is reading their ancestor’s journals. Al ison knows Mabel a would al ow her to join her if she asks, but she would feel like she is being intrusive. She is only three years younger than Alessia, though Alessia treats her as if she is a smal child. She always hovers and watches and worries, despite Al ison knowing how to ght and being quite knowledgeable.

She continues to walk in the forest. She takes a short break after an hour of venturing deep into the forest.

The next thing Al ison knows is a sharp and lasting pain in her abdomen and everything fading to black.

Al ison wakes in a smal room made of stone and lit by a single torch. She attempts to sit up, only to quickly regret it after nding a patched wound on her abdomen. She gently props herself up. There is a water glass on the table beside her with a note: "Drink this, I wil be back soon to check on you."

Does this person real y think she is stupid enough to drink something from a stranger? If they did, they would be correct. She gulped down the whole glass.

She soon hears somebody walk up to the door and knock before entering the room. "Are you awake?" A man asks. When he sees that she is, he says "oh good! I was worried."

"Why would you be worried? I am sturdier than I look."

"The arrow that shot you was poisoned. It seems that you recovered from it quite quickly."

Al ison looks around for a window, but she does not nd one. "How long have I been out?"

"Only a few hours. You have the shortest poison recovery time I’ve seen. Almost as if you have the poison eating gift"

Al ison laughs. "That is funny."

"You think I am joking? You could. Maybe the goddesses chose a nonroyal to take the throne."

"They did not, but that would be interesting."

"Wouldn’t it? Tel me, how do you know they did not?"

"How do I know I can trust you?"

"Fair enough. When you are healed enough to walk I wil give you a tour around this place. For now, you may have my name, it is Thoryn. May I have yours?"

"My name is Al ison."

Chapter Thirteen

Devotee Caverns

After a week of healing, Thoryn does as he promised to. He shows her the hal s, the dining room, the kitchen, and so on. He even showed her their statue of Madeleine, the goddess of madness.

"She is why we cal this place the Devotee Caverns.

We are devoted to her, we dedicated our lives to her.

Especial y our ancestors."

"We?"

"My family and I. Thousands of years ago, my ancestors helped Madeleine ascend to her sacred throne after she was reborn." Thoryn doesn’t have the ful story, unfortunately. It was never written down, and, of course, stories warp as they are passed down generations.

"She was reborn?"

"Yes, and one of my ancestors fel in love with her."

"Does that mean you are a descendant of Madeleine?"

"I don’t think so, I don’t think they ever had kids. It wouldn’t be ethical, considering that Madeleine is immortal."

"Maybe they are together in the afterlife, then."

They continue on their tour while making smal talk. Al ison is worried, she forgot to tel Alessia that she was leaving and Alessia doesn’t know where she is. It’s been a week. Alessia would probably never let her leave the castle alone again.