A blind girl with the ability to draw is abnormal, even on the magical island of Edaion. As an immigrant, Leocardo is uninhibited by the accepted wisdom and is convinced his sister is having premonitions. Aniela knows better. As a princess, she has access to information Leocardo does not and is convinced his sister is a medium channeling voiceless spirits.
Who is right? Whose eyes will you read through? This is Aniela’s volume of book 1 in the Blind Sight series. To read even further, preview on Amazon.
Chapter 1: Searing Regret
The years of playing dress-up had long faded into memory. At seventeen, Aniela was a pretty girl, although lacking the sophisticated beauty of her mother and sister. Her long blonde locks cascaded in a style reminiscent of her childhood, but her blue eyes had lost some of their innocence. Her playful demeanor, although now tempered by responsibility, had never left entirely.
It was morning. Aniela’s mother and brother had already departed for work, leaving her alone with her father at the table. Distinguished streaks of grey dashed his dark brown hair. While her mother would employ the handiwork of every stylist in Edaion before letting a strand of grey show, he bragged he had earned every one of them as a devoted husband and king. His deep-set brown eyes scanned the front page of the Edaion Daily from under his thick eyebrows. Tatiana had inherited his olive skin, while Aniela had their mother’s fair complexion.
As soon as he finished reading the article, he handed it to Aniela with a soft ”good job.” Today’s headline was a celebratory remark about Phoenix, the combination orphanage and boarding school Aniela had organized a year ago to the day.
She excused herself, leaving James to his reading and morning coffee. She rapped gently on Theodore’s office door and waited for a response before entering. She was always more reserved in his office than elsewhere, for while he had at one time been fun and playful as her brother, as prince, he was nothing if not professional. Theodore had his father’s dominant features and angled jawline, but softer eyes. His hair had darkened as he aged, from their mother’s blonde to their father’s brown.
“You want me to make sure Tia behaves herself.” He startled her with his insight this early in the morning. Without at least four cups of coffee, it was rare to see his eyes open without the aid of toothpicks.
“I know you can never make Tatiana do anything,” she replied. Not even their mother had that power. “But tonight is important. Phoenix needs more funding, and I want everything to go smoothly. If I had my way, Tatiana would not have to come.”
Alaya was the one throwing the party and mandating her daughter’s attendance. She was always firm that the family show a united front. To do otherwise could open them up to attack from one of the rival families or gossip columns, few though there were in such a small country.
“As you know, I can make no promises.” He picked up the file he had been reading when she came in, signaling that the discussion was over. “But I will do my best.”
With Alaya overseeing every detail of the party, she was nowhere near her room when Aniela snuck into her mother’s closet. She no longer dared play dress up, but that did not stop her from imagining one day taking the gloved hand of a suitor as they stepped onto the dance floor.
The trunk creaked with age as Aniela peered at its contents, the pearls and sunglasses forgotten by everyone except her, but the treasure she sought still eluded her. Somewhere in the manor, likely in Alaya’s closet, sat the crown jewels. While Aniela would never dream of playing with them, she did want to see them, to touch the silver and diamonds she had only seen in portraits. She reached up on her tiptoes. Her fingers touched a box on the shelf above her, but lacked the friction and strength to get it down. Carefully, she reached out with her magic and brought the box floating into her waiting arms. No matter how many times she had looked in each of them, a pending event as grand as this one always stirred her desire to check again. She knew from portraits exactly what the tiara she sought looked like, a complex design of silver and diamonds.
After a fruitless search through each box on the shelf, she pushed on the wall panels and pried at floorboards before returning everything to its place. When she started to feel her mother’s furious gaze burning into the back of her head, she knew she had been there too long. Even though she had imagined it, the thought of angering her mother had her tiptoeing from the room with haste. She could never let herself become the disappointment Tatiana allowed herself to be.
Once ready for the ball, dressed in a sleek white gown detailed with lace, Aniela entered the portrait room to wait for Alaya’s promised surprise. It was a large room with a vaulted ceiling. The walls held several portraits of the Dawson family, members all the way back to the founder, King Palmer Dawson I. This was her favorite room; it gave her a sense of belonging.
She turned on the lights to find only the portraits gazing back at her. She paused at one of them and gazed at the tiara that would one day be hers. The repeated teardrop shapes were much less intricate than the tiara Tatiana should have gotten last year. She tore her eyes away as a door opened behind her and Alaya floated over. Her mother was a classic beauty with perfect curves and natural grace. Beaming down at her from an intimidating height, she smiled and stroked Aniela’s cheek with the back of her fingers. She kissed Aniela’s forehead and took her hand before waving toward the door. Aniela looked to see whom her mother was beckoning and waited with curiosity as Alaya’s assistant handed her a wooden box. Alaya made a big show, closing it as soon as she caught Aniela trying to peek.
“Patience, my darling; it is a virtue.”
There it was. There it was. Aniela stood frozen. It was not her mother’s style to have an identical copy of anything made, which meant this was the tiara she had spent years searching for. Tatiana’s tiara.
“Is that…” she started, unable to complete the sentence. A mix of emotions fought for dominance. Confusion, glee, pride, and concern for Tatiana’s pending reaction raged for dominance. Usually it was passed down to the next generation when the child turned twenty, but Tatiana was twenty-one with another birthday coming in a few months, and there had been no mention of the tiara. Theodore had already received his crown, the one given to the first-born male of the family at his last birthday.
“Yes, and you deserve it.” She felt the tiara slide into her hair. It was heavier than she imagined. Could her mother even do this?
“But…” Aniela started.
Tatiana may never have shown any signs that she wanted the tiara, but it was still her birthright. Regardless of how Tatiana acted, Aniela always wondered if deep down she did not want to be part of the family or if she just acted out because it was easier to reject the family than be rejected by it.
“No,” Alaya snapped harshly. “The tiara is yours. It is mine to give to my daughter, and I will not see it sit in a room while I wait to have grandchildren.” The next second, she was the glowing, doting mother again.
Aniela could not argue with her mother; it was psychologically impossible after so many years of bending to her will. She followed her out of the room, glancing back at her mother’s portrait, reinforcing to herself that if she wanted to continue feeling that sense of belonging, she had to do as her mother wished.
They walked in silence, stopping just outside the closed doors that lead to the ballroom. Alaya lived to make an entrance and the rest of the family had no choice but to follow along. Theodore and James were both dressed in their tuxedos with white gloves and white bow ties. Tatiana tended to dance on the line of being late but always eventually showed up.
As an empath, James usually controlled his gift quite well. Rarely did anyone know what he was feeling, but tonight it poured out of him like a broken dam. Aniela felt waves of confusion, anger, frustration, and bewilderment flaring from him like tidal waves. She stared at her shoes peeking out from under her dress.
James’ voice cut through the silence. “What do you think you are doing giving that to her?”
Alaya acted as though she had done nothing wrong, stroking Aniela’s cheek with the back of her fingers as she spoke. For once, it was not a comforting gesture.
“Princess Aniela Cordelia Dawson,” a guard announced as the majestic doors opened and Aniela stepped out, smiling the way mother had taught her. For publicity, one rather irritating photographer stood toward the back, snapping away.
“Princess Tatiana Leila Dawson.” Aniela was surprised to see Tatiana walking into the parted crowd, white flashes highlighting her features as the camera clicked away. Tatiana was tall but not extremely so, yet tonight she filled the entire room. Aniela backed up and tried to hide in the crowd. If she could avoid being spotted for the first few minutes, Tatiana would escape through a side door and never know about the tiara.
“Crown Prince Theodore James Dawson.” At his name, Theodore walked out, looking unusually grim. He dutifully plastered on a fake smile for the camera before he blew past Aniela, straight for the corner where Tatiana stood, already pulling the bobby pins out of her hair. Aniela hoped Theodore had plans to get her out of the room, but her attention was stolen as the room fell silent. The whispering ended abruptly as the room anticipated the queen and king’s entrance.
“Her Royal Highness, Queen Alaya Cheree Dawson, and King James Michael Dawson,” the guard announced. The photographer snapped away. They were notably different in the way they walked, Alaya in her gaudy jewelry, chest held high, smile frozen on her face as she looked across the crowd and James’ placid expression. He moved with reserved dignity while she floated. As soon as he could, James broke off and joined the crowd while Alaya headed for the podium. Anyone standing, Aniela included, found a seat at one of the tables as Alaya began her welcoming speech.
“Lords, Ladies, and honored guests…” Aniela stopped listening to look around at her mother’s handiwork. The black and white theme mimicked Alaya’s personality. A serving cart rolled around on its own at the command of the cook. Plates moved through the air like they were on an invisible conveyer belt as the cart rolled away.
Aniela ducked as a high-pitched screech assaulted her ears. She twisted in her chair and a brush of air hit her nose as Tatiana’s nails came dangerously close to her face while Theodore held her back.
“How dare you!” Tatiana shrieked. If it was not at the top of her lungs, it was close. The room fell silent and everyone stared, giving Theodore and the flailing Tatiana ample room. Aniela fought against the rage welling up inside her. She knew it was Tatiana’s fury and not her own, but without her father’s control over her own gift, she could no better block out the emotions of others than she could keep her own to herself.
It didn’t take long before Theodore dragged his twin out onto the porch at Alaya’s command. She turned to the orchestra and signaled to the conductor to start the music. With her sister further away, Aniela was assaulted by curiosity, disgust, horror, and disappointment from the crowd. James tried to follow as Alaya shot off after Theodore and Tatiana, but after a look from his wife, he decided it was best to stay inside and do damage control.
Aniela’s stomach churned and her body shook. Thank heaven Theodore had grabbed Tatiana or Aniela would have been covered in bruises, nursing some broken bones and bald patches. Unable to take the emotions bombarding her, Aniela decided to join the group outside. Maybe if she gave her sister the tiara now, she could minimalize the damage.
Outside, the cold September wind hit her with chilling sharpness. She wrapped her arms around her and wished she had a coat. The wind was strong enough to muffle the discussion between Tatiana and her mother until she walked closer, but she could see mouths moving and veins threatening to burst from foreheads.
“…mine!” Tatiana was screaming. She was currently mildly subdued, though still angry. Although she no longer squirmed, Tatiana was tense in Theodore’s grip. “You gave it to her; you had no right!”
Aniela tried to offer the tiara to Tatiana, say that she didn’t mind, but before she could get anything out, Alaya’s hand connected with Tatiana’s cheek. Aniela shrieked in surprise. Her eyes widened and her hands flew to her mouth as she gasped. Tears welled in her eyes; she had never seen her mother physically abuse her sister. She looked at Tatiana who had stopped moving. Tatiana’s cheek was turning pink, her head still twisted in the direction of the slap. Theodore’s grip was loose; he too looked stunned. This was so unprecedented that none of the children knew how to react.
Even though Alaya’s voice was low, no one had to strain to listen over the howl of wind. It was the coldest Aniela had ever heard her sound. “Your…right?” Her words were biting and cruel, sarcasm dripped from every syllable. “You think you have any right to anything in this family? You are a disgrace.”
Theodore’s jaw clenched. Aniela felt a tear roll down her cheek. She had finally found the tiara, but she had not wanted it to turn out like this. The metal became colder the longer she stood outside, a growing reminder to be careful what she wished for. She felt the rickety relationship with the twins burst into flames. Tatiana’s eyes met her own; she was not crying, but Aniela thought she saw her eyes watering up.
Despite the limited number of auras, the space between them kept Aniela from feeling much of Tatiana’s mood; she could feel Alaya’s ice like needles on her skin, but only some of Tatiana’s burning rage.
“Do not plan on rejoining the festivities,” Alaya threatened before turning to Aniela, her voice suddenly glowing with warmth and praise. “Come Aniela, your guests are waiting.”
James blocked their path inside and Aniela practically cowered. When he spoke, it was not to her, but to his wife. “You need to give Tatiana a chance; she is your eldest daughter and has the right to everything that entails.” He would not look at Aniela even though she stared intensely at him.
“No,” Alaya whispered icily. “That girl is your daughter, Aniela is my daughter. My only daughter.” James said nothing and Alaya brushed past him. Aniela had no choice but to follow.
Whether the shock had given her a moment of control over her empathy, or overwhelmed her so much that it just shut down, she was emotionally numb when she returned to the ballroom. The orchestra had resumed playing and the guests now mingled loudly. Alaya immediately acted as though nothing had happened.
The rest of the night was a blur. Mechanically, Aniela went through the motions. She greeted people and danced when asked, but she could not get into the proper mindset to ask for donations, not that she thought anyone would feel like giving now.
It was not until she had gone to bed that she had time to collect her thoughts. She pulled the covers over her head, feeling oddly exposed despite being sheltered under the thick covers. Engulfed in her makeshift cocoon, she hid childishly trying to avoid the malicious glint of the tiara that sparkled so brightly, even in the darkness of the room, it had the power to penetrate her tightly shut eyelids. She heard her sister’s door slam which indicated that Tatiana had come home from her disappearing act. She would not know any other door by sound, but she had heard that slam enough over the years to recognize it.
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