Some call it the Million Spheres. Others call it the Worlds of Shadow. Me? I call it the Cosmic Playground. It’s a bit less pretentious. But only a bit.

I was born out here. Born in the Worlds Beyond Worlds. I don’t remember it, of course, but my mom tells me it was a painful process. Apparently, I was reluctant.

I never knew my father. Mom wanted it that way.

She took me to places where I could learn to be what I needed to become. A child of the Blood. I learned how to fight and fence in a World where gunpowder was never discovered. I learned how to use sorcery in a world where technology never took off. I learned how to watch and I learned how to listen and I learned how to murder. She told me that last skill was the most important. “If you don’t learn how to kill,” she told me, “they’ll kill you first.”

I asked her who would want to kill me.

“The Blooded,” she told me. “Your kin.”

She also taught me about Mirrors. I learned the Mirrorwalk: moving between Worlds. To teach me a lesson, she left me on a World with no Mirrors and a book that taught me how to make them. I was there for two years learning how to get out of that place. I hated it. I hated her. But when I found her again—in a park where we used to picnic—all that hatred melted away. I could never stay angry with her for long.

But no matter where I went—to whatever World I Mirrored to—I always felt as if something was missing inside me. Something… perhaps something I had lost. No. It was something I had never found. Something I could never find.

Finally, when I was old enough, she brought me to the place where she was born. It was time for me to be introduced to the court.

The castle was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. So tall, the towers scraped the clouds. There was music and flowers and blue skies. I was crying. Something inside me told my heart that I had found that something I was missing. I was home.

Mother told me that only those who knew where it was could find it. Now that she had taken me here, I could find it again. She also told me that I had to be careful. “They will try to kill you,” she told me. I asked her who. “The Blooded,” she told me. “Your kin.”

Servants greeted us at the castle. They looked like they stepped out of a storybook. The servants walked us to our rooms. When we reached mine, she thanked the servant and he left us alone. Then, she told me the rules.

“You may not kill any of the Blooded without a proper declaration of Revenge,” she told me. “That won’t stop them from trying to murder you, but it is a hindrance. So, try your best not to offend your uncles, aunts and cousins.”

I told her I was a swordsman. I was a sorcerer. I knew the ways of Mirrormagic and poisons. I was not afraid.

She slapped me. “I have not been so careful to have you throw away your life on such foolish pride!” And then, she looked at me, her eyes alive with an angry fire. “Do you not think others have done the same? They had centuries to practice. To train. You haven’t even seen your second decade! Do not underestimate them,” she told me. “They will kill you if they can.”

That was when I asked the question I never asked before. “Why do they want to kill me?”

She smiled at me. She caressed my hair. Hair like a crimson sunset, the same as hers. She kissed me. “They want to kill you,” she said, “because you are like them. Blooded. And they will kill you if they can.”

Later, I descended the stairs into a banquet hall. They were all there. Waiting for me. The men were powerful. The women were beautiful.

They all looked at me. Some of them smiled. Others glared. A few gave me looks a cousin should never see come from another cousin. And as I looked into their eyes, I saw that my mother was right.

They all wanted to kill me.

Houses of the Blooded: Blood & Shadow