Prologue

I watched the red butterfly flit around the field. I had been sitting there since before dawn, waiting for my best friend to show up. It was my birthday, and we would always meet by dawn on each other's birthdays. But I knew that her mother disliked me, and would sometimes intervene, she thought I was the trouble maker. In reality I had always just gone along with Mary. She was mischievous and clever. I was just the one who got caught red-handed.

I laid down, staring at the sky. My patience today apparently knew no bounds. Normally I would have run back into town, knocked on her door until she or her mother answered, and grabbed Mary running here. We never did anything interesting. Mostly we'd pick flowers for my birthday, being at the end of spring, or build snow forts for her birthday, being in the middle of winter. And next to me already lay a pile of quickly wilting daisies, so I picked one up and dangled it over my head.

"She's on her way," I said as I plucked a petal and let it fall, using my breath to blow it away from my face. "She's forgotten," I plucked another petal, "She's on her way. She's forgotten. She's on her way."

"She's forgotten," I said as the last petal of the last flower came loose and fell.

The sun was at high noon, and I gave up. Mary wasn't coming. And I was hungry. I stood up, taking one last desperate glance around the field before brushing my hands against the linen of my skirt and heading towards town.

I felt alone and abandoned. Mary never forgot. And I never forgot. And this was the first birthday after I had lost my twin. She had to be here for me, she promised to be here for me. But instead she was no where to be found. I didn't know if I would ever be able to trust her again, I certainly had no plans to speak to her for a few days.

The strong aroma coming out the bakery distracted me and I walked in. I had planned on waiting until I got home to eat, but passing Edna's bakery on an empty stomach is impossible. I walked in, and the usual hum drum of people talking stopped almost immediately. Just like last year. Only last year it seemed as if they knew what was happening to my sister before I did.

Edna broke the silence, "Well there's the birthday girl. Come have a chocolate raspberry pastry on me."

I walked over to her with a smile; it was my favorite thing to eat, "Thank you, you're too generous."

She handed me the pastry and a fork and I walked outside. I felt the stares, and felt uncomfortable. At least I could sit outside and hear some whispers, Edna was known for keeping her windows open all spring and summer long.

I walked around the entire bakery first, making sure they thought I left, and then silently snuck into a seat on the bench outside, so I could listen.

"Poor girl, how could she not know?"

"Even Adelia figured it out before her time."

"What were their parents thinking?"

"How many generations has this even been going on?"

"I heard it started with his great grandparents. That's why they never had any sisters."

"They aren't the only family in that situation though."

"No, but those families know the truth, the children even embrace it."

"Yes, while the Valliens get their daughters drunk and send them away on a wagon driven by one of them goons."

"It's disgraceful."

I couldn't take it anymore. What were they talking about? And what had my twin figured out? It was all too much and I stood up, forgetting about the half eaten pastry on my lap. I had even realized I so much as touched it. And I stared at it, lying in the dirt, for only a moment before leaving. My parents getting their daughters drunk? They didn't even believe we should have a glass of wine with dinner until we were 17, two years after most children in the whole country of Trithia started drinking. I was only turning 16, and despite my begging, my parents weren't going to budge on it.

So instead I walked home. I was lost in thoughts. I questioned what had really happened to Adelia, and my sisters before her, the ones I had barely heard about and only seen pictures of. They all had graves in the family plot. Would mine be the next? What about my younger sisters? Would my baby brother grow up to be an only child? Mother had told us with a broken heart that there would be no more siblings, and although none of us really felt badly about that, we felt bad for her pain. And maybe now I knew. I was going to die.

Maybe I could embrace that in the walk it took to get home. I would most likely die in this town. Marry a man, have children, stay at home taking care of them, and die. Not exactly a fulfilling life. Well, not my idea of fulfilling. But a small town girl getting a chance to travel and lead an adventurous life was far fetched, even girls who can afford to travel often can't. So those dreams would never be accomplished anyway.

I passed Mary's house without a second thought. I couldn't bring myself to even look at it without feeling a mixture of anger, betrayal and sadness. So I looked at my feet instead. My small, boring, 16 year old feet.

And then I looked up. Before me stood the small cottage I called home. Could I even call it that anymore? What waited for me behind that door? Where were my younger sisters? Why wasn't my baby brother running out the door giggling in delight? They must have sent them off. What if my parents were devil worshippers and sacrificed their daughters when they reached a certain age? I guess that meant the age was 15, and since I had a twin, they could wait another year for me, and for my younger sisters.

I couldn't wait any longer, so I worked up my courage and walked up to the door.

"Mother? Papa? I'm home!"

I didn't hear anything, but I saw the flicker of a lantern come from the kitchen and so I walked through the small living room and through the arch way into our kitchen. The sad fact was that it was larger than all the other rooms in the house, especially considering only my brother had a room to himself.

There stood my parents, with a bottle of wine and a poured glass sitting on the table.

"Sit, dearest daughter," Papa spoke as he gestured to the chair closest to me.

"What is this, Papa?"

"You wanted a glass of wine did you not?"

"Not like this. Where is everyone? Why are my siblings not here to celebrate?"

"Dear Aurelia," Mother finally spoke, "Sit, and drink, they'll be here soon."

Slowly and hesitantly, I walked over to the chair and sat down. Mother handed me the glass of wine. I stared at it, red as blood, and swirled it gently as I had seen adults do.

"Go on, sweetie, you've wanted this for so long. Why are you so hesitant," Papa asked.

"Yes, Papa," I spoke softly as I raised the glass to my lips. I smelt it first, seeing if I could smell poison, but all I smelt was the alcohol and grapes. And so I let the bittersweet liquid slide past my lips, my tongue, and down my throat.

As I began to place the glass back on the table, my mother stopped me, "Go on, keep drinking. It gets better as you drink."

And so I raised the glass to my lips and let the wine drain from the glass and down my throat, not even bothering to taste it.

And then I felt it. They were clever. A sleeping potion whose scent is easily masked by alcohol. I'd heard about this method being used to kidnap naïve girls, but never for sacrifices.

"We are so sorry dearest daughter. We are so very sorry," mother said.

My eyelids grew heavy, and my hearing faded in and out, but I felt the glass slip from my hand and heard it shatter as I collapsed, barely noticing my father catch me before I blacked out.