Unregistered

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Zelda awoke from a fitful night's sleep where everyone in her dreams spoke in riddles, and no one said what they meant. Her stomach rumbled as the smell of fresh eggs filled the room, and she found a tray of hot breakfast just inside her door.

Tiffani had also left a long, navy blue box tied with a white ribbon. Inside was a set of outdoor clothes: tan riding pants, a white button up, a tartan blazer, and a card with Zelda's schedule for the day on it. A pair of new wellington boots in her size sat under the desk. They would be shooting clays in the morning. Tiffani returned and once Zelda had showered, insisted on styling her hair herself.

Zelda dressed and headed to the front drive where she found a large portion of the men and women she recognized from the last night's reception. The sky was a pewter gray, with no hope for sunshine, and a heavy mist hung low between the steep mountain hills. For a moment, the view stole Zelda's breath away.

"Not a great day to be out," Leo's voice came from behind her.

Despite the breathless cold wind that cut through her coat, Zelda couldn't have been more glad to get out of the palace and into fresh air. "No, not exactly, but the views from here are... haunting."

Leo tugged playfully at the ribbon from the box she had used to tie her hair back. Zelda shot him a glare from over her shoulder.

With the arrival of the royals, the hunting party set out through the expansive grounds that surrounded the Winter Palace. To Zelda's dismay, a number of the younger female attendees had turned out for the shooting excursion, seeing as Leo would be there. Leo seemed to sense their eyes on them as well, so he held them back while the others trudged up the path ahead.

"I couldn't sleep last night," Leo said as they entered a shaded grove of trees.

"Me neither."

"You can never sleep."

"Funny," Zelda said, letting her shoulder bump into Leo's side. "What was keeping you awake?"

"What you said last night," he coughed nervously. "About the you-know-whats in you-know-where."

"Yeah?"

"You said they were unregistered."

Zelda nodded. "It was something Madame LeBleu said."

Leo held a branch aside for her to pass by. Zelda made sure the others were far enough ahead on the path that they wouldn't overhear.

"So," Leo continued, "at one point these magical creatures were registered."

Zelda's heart sputtered. She hadn't thought of that, but she could tell where Leo's mind was going. "If we could find the last known registered elves—"

"I just want to get as much information as we can," Leo said, his voice quickening.

Zelda cursed herself for not looking harder into what she'd seen, and her cursory search through the school library had turned up little more than folktales. "You're right," she said.

"The more we know about them, the more we can do to help them once we find them."

"This is so strange," Zelda remarked.

Leo smiled. "Says the fairy godmother."

"No. The fact that we might have found magical creatures that were once thought to be mere legend," she whispered, her pulse quickening at the thought of their discovery. "It concerns me that the St. Germain family would keep something like that to themselves."

Leo placed a gentle hand in the small of her back. "Don't worry. I'll get an inspector out to his factory as soon as humanly possible."

Zelda glanced over at Leo. The muscles in his jaw pulsed, and his brows were pushed together. Everything about the situation concerned him as much as it did her. "I love you," she said, the words slipping out before she could even think them.

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