Chapter 1: Beginnings

The war had been unexpected. Although tension had been brewing between Illuster and Louvel, the two planets in the Aeon Star System, no one was expecting the long-standing trade conflicts and policy disagreements to escalate into an all-out war. No one had expected any of it to become something diplomacy couldn't resolve easily. In fact, no one had thought any of it needed resolving in the first place. After all, the rift had been there for the longest time.

As Skye looked out her window at the soldiers below, she felt even more anxious than usual. Louvelian soldiers, decked out in their crisp black uniforms, were lined up like stiff dominoes in the courtyard, in stark contrast to the sparkling fountain and greenery. At that moment, Skye heard a knock on her door, and she averted her gaze from the soldiers and looked at the heavy oak door.

"Come in," she called out.

The door opened and her brother walked in. Quickly shutting the door, Crown Prince Alden, heir to the Louvelian Throne, fixed his sister with an annoyed look. "Skye, Father wants to talk to you. What did you do now?"

Skye widened her eyes in feigned innocence and replied, "Me? What makes you think I did something?"

Alden rolled his eyes. "Skye, do you want me to remind you of all those times you've gotten on Father's nerves since you were practically a zygote?"

"Fine," Skye conceded. "So maybe I did do something. But it was just a teeny tiny something."

Her brother crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for an explanation.

"Come on, Alden, haven't you noticed that he's been more relaxed lately instead of his usual stressed out self? Don't you like him better that way?"

Alden sighed in exasperation. "Skye, you're missing the point here. We're at war with Illuster. It's practically Father's job to stress about what we should do."

"I don't think so. Didn't you notice how much weight he lost? Not to mention the wrinkles." Skye wrinkled her nose.

"I don't think Father's being King has anything to do with his skin or weight. Mother's already fixed the problem, so don't bother. But don't ever do this yoga effect thingy again, okay? At least, not until the war's over."

Skye smirked. Her brother's knowledge of magick was so unimpressive. "Alright already, Mr. Perfect-Crown-Prince-Everybody-Loves-To-Death. I'll go talk to Father now," she acquiesced, smiling. "But you better come with me. And lighten up, Alden. It's trade that's been crippled, not your mouth muscles. Which means you can still laugh every once in a while."

The Prince smiled at his sister, wondering how she could even manage to act all chipper at a time like this. That makes one of us, he thought. Right now, he had major problems to deal with. Problems that involved much more than his sister's usual tricks. Problems with much higher stakes.

o o o

High King Illustrio, give me strength. Prince Lyle leaned back in his maroon-cushioned chair and rubbed his temples with one hand, his other hand flat on the table. Around him voices grew louder and louder, filling the spacious conference hall with heated words. The Illustrian ministers continued bickering, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Crown Prince was getting more and more irritated. Standing next to him at the head of the table was his Chief of Protocol, Alec.

"Are you going to shut them up, or should I?" Alec asked, smiling at the sight of the normally imposing Prince and childhood friend, now massaging his forehead.

"Please do," Lyle replied with a frustrated sigh.

Alec gave a quick nod and called out, "Ministers! His Royal Highness wishes for you to proceed with your reports in an orderly manner."

The Ministers, perhaps unable to hear, or not caring at all, continued the already frenzied debate.

Lyle groaned inwardly to himself and cleared his throat. Looks like I'm going to have to take care of this myself. He stood up in one smooth motion and in a commanding voice that resounded through the room said, "Ministers! No one is to blame for this war, save perhaps the Louvelians. Regain your composure. It shames me to see full-grown Illustrian men and women quarrelling like children." The Prince's sharp words had the desired effect on those present at the ministerial assembly. The voices that were yelling just a second ago stopped in mid-sentence, and the ministers all proceeded to sit back down in their high-backed chairs, apologizing in low voices.

I am the man, the Prince congratulated himself mentally. And with no magick too. Alec patted him on the back, chuckling, "I'd congratulate you on a job well done, but we both know you turned to mindcraft for that little trick just now."

"You wish, Alec. I can't help it if everyone listens to me. I mean, I am next in line to the throne," Lyle whispered in a jokingly pompous tone, as the Ministers settled down.

Still standing, Lyle turned to address them. "Everyone, let's get down to business. The King's absence from this assembly is but temporary, as he is currently meeting with the Royal Runereaders. In the meantime, I'd like to hear your individual reports, starting with Intelligence and Security, then Defense and Logistics, and so on."

At this point, a tall, sharp-looking man with jet black hair and piercing gray eyes stood up. "Your Highness, I have plenty to report, although I'm not sure everyone here should be privy to the information." This elicited several complaints from the ministers present, a response which the Minister of Intelligence and Security had anticipated. Okay, now that I've said what had to be said, time to bullcrap my way out of this. "What I can say right now though, is that our sources within the Louvelian capital all report a substantial growth of the Louvelian army and major fortification of their defenses," he stated matter-of-factly. Although he had virtually shared nothing of great import, the other ministers seemed to be appeased. Ten years of service as a Minister of Intelligence and Security, and Neil Duvane was still at the top of his game. He looked straight at the Prince, who nodded, a silent agreement to resume the discussion privately.

Author's note: I added the Illuster scene (which was supposed to be the next chapter, but I think it may be too short) to this chapter to make it longer. I have this tendency to write really short chapters, which some may find annoying. Hehe. Also, I'm not sure how frequently I'll be updating since I don't write linearly. Basically, what I do is write in bits and pieces, jumping from one point in the story to another. As of writing this, I've written almost 10 chapters, but they're not necessarily in order. I hope that won't stop you guys from reading (and reviewing) though. Thanks:)