One

"and death begets life, only through death can life be reclaimed. Only with the blood of a fleeting life swallowed like a healing tincture, can youth be restored and with the blood of an enemy turned with the blood of the heart can eternal life be attained. Continue reading for the exact workings;"

- the necromancer's grimoire

Hours.

She had sat there for hours after it happened, cradling her father's lifeless body. His throat had been slit. It didn't take long for the blood to stop flowing from the wound. After all, the body only has so much blood to give. It had all puddled, stark crimson against the white moonstone floor. Much of it had soaked into her pale blue gossamer gown, permanently staining it. Not that she would have been allowed to wear it again anyways. The tears had long stopped as well, dried and sticky on her skin. She stared at her father's face, pallid and slack. His brilliantly green eyes, once vibrant and lively, now stared blankly into the high vaulted ceiling of the throne room. It was funny how, in death, he no longer seemed to be king. Death made everybody equal.

The dancing, the trumpets, the fanfare had disguised it. It was their birthday. Hers and Eros's. As the Vaelfyre dynasty was prone to do, a lavish party was thrown in their honor. Everybody who was anybody was invited. It was not only an excuse for celebration, but a way to strengthen business and ties in foreign nations.

No expense had been spared, from the gold leafed flowers that littered the tables to the red satin ribbons that bedecked the walls and even spanned the domed ceiling of the ballroom. It was the biggest room, by far, in the palace. The only room, aside the throne room, and gods' hall that had a polished moonstone floor. The walls were painted a light blue grey veined with gold that faded into white towards the ceiling. At the moment, a dozen tables flanked the back of the ballroom, each crammed with people passing rich foods, sweets, and wines amongst each other. The rest of the hall was filled with people, standing and talking in groups. Most watched, mesmerized by the long-lashed, brown skinned, honey-eyed Udabi dancers who flitted about like bees amongst flowers. Their graceful movements, their brightly colored outfits, the scarves they held snapping one moment, fluttering the next. The music was fit for Udabi dancing too. The trumpet skillfully interwoven with the foreign sitar and heavy drums.

Her father had been sitting at the head of the center table, watching his subjects eat and dance and be lively. Being the Crown Prince, Eros sat at his father's right hand. Elvira's place was at her brother's side. There was no warning, nothing even remotely suspicious. King Talcolm started choking, the deep guttural sound of someone fighting for their life. Blood spattered across the table as he desperately fought for air. Then the screaming began and the court scattered in every direction.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion, but was over so quickly. Elvira watched their father's body tumble to the ground as Eros stood and calmly shouted for the guards. The body caught on the tablecloth, sending food, wine, and crystalline dishes flying. The sound of her father's body hitting the floor was oddly deafening amid the chaos and cacophony. She was dimly aware of an animalistic shriek piercing through her shock. And she thought it might have been her. A doctor scurried over from somewhere. It occurred to her that Eros probably summoned him. He went to work on the king, but stopped as quickly as he started. It was too little, too late.

The scene had played on repeat for the last few hours in Elvira's mind. Over and over. She tried picking out things she could have done differently, changed to save him. There was nothing. It happened too fast.

"Elvira," she recognized her twin brother's voice.

"Please," the word was strangled, her voice shredded by grief.

The maids and guards had been trying to remove her for the last two hours. She had cried and screamed and even resorted to biting the last guard who came near her.

"You've been here for hours," Eros said softly. His voice was an odd mix of grief, pity, and resoluteness.

"He deserves the Olde Rite," she said softly, "I'll give it to him if no one else will. I'll sit vigil with him."

"Elvira," she could feel his hand on her shoulder, warm where she was cold, freezing, in fact. She hadn't realized just how cold the room had gotten once night had fallen, without the multitude of fireplaces ablaze to drive off the stiff chill. "He was my father too."

"I know," she said softly, using her hands to brush the limp bloodied hair off her father's brow.

She had tried to clean his face. There were still remnants of the blood there though, faint smears across his forehead, collected in the wrinkles and crevices of his face, dried in the graying whiskers on his chin.

"You're not wrong," Eros said, his tone placating, "He deserves the Olde Rite, but you can't stay steeped in his blood until dawn."

Elvira knew he was right. The very thought of being coated in her father's blood made her stomach churn and her eyes water, but she refused to leave his body on the floor of the ballroom like everybody else had. King Talcolm had supposedly been beloved by all his people, and yet once he had stopped breathing, they had left his body on the floor like some worthless thing. Including the council members.

"I won't leave-" she started, but Eros cut her off.

"I'll stay with him while you wash and change."

Elvira stole another glance at her father. His crown was long gone, taken by Lord Dumas and placed on Eros's head within an hour of the incident. The golden crown had been handed down through generations of Vaelfyres since the founding of Westfall. It was a work of art, rods of gold, bent and twisted to look like branches and inlaid with four massive diamonds on the front, back, and each side of the woven circle. She looked up at her brother, who already seemed every inch the king he was born and bred to be.

They looked incredibly alike, the only obvious differences being Elvira's feminine figure and features, and Eros's masculine. Both looked mostly like their mother. They had her heart shaped face, delicate features, and lean build. Their eyes, they got from their father, and their hair too. Waves of deep golden brown. Eros kept the sides of his head shaven in keeping with the latest fashion, whereas Elvira's hair hung in a cascade of curls to her back.

Eros collapsed beside Elvira. It seemed like all the fight had gone out of him as he dropped to his knees. For a few moments, the twins sat together in silence. Eros was always distant. Probably due more to his court training than his actual disposition, Elvira thought. Now, staring at her brother, she realized it was mostly a mask he wore as the Crown Prince. King now.

Damn it all, King, She thought. He's King now.

Right after it had happened, Eros had plunged into Crown Prince mode. Giving orders, sending out guards, trying to keep a leash on the madness. He seemed emotionally unaffected by the fact that his father had just seemingly magically bled out in front of him. A part of Elvira resented him for that, for not being there, that she had to be the one to be there and cradle his body alone. Now though, Eros's weariness stabbed through the mask of stone. A sob burst from him, punching out of his throat. The noise startled them both.

"Eros ..." she whispered.

"I need … I need this one moment," he spit out between sobs, "To not have to pretend to be alright, Vira. I just … I …"

He turned and looked at her. His eyes were rimmed in red and tears streamed down his cheeks. He sounded ashamed of himself. He probably was ashamed of himself. Ashamed that he couldn't withstand the grief until after he was safely in bed where none but the tight-lipped guards would hear him cry. Ashamed that he couldn't withstand the anguish before his sister, his twin.

"I don't know if I can do this …" he said, his voice so quiet and trembling she could barely understand him.

"You have to …"

"I know … I'm just, I'll never live up to him. You know? And … I'm still so unprepared," he whispered, "I expected years more …"

"Eros … If I could ease this for you," Elvira whispered, lightly placing her hand on his back, "I would … But I can't do it for you …"

"I know …"

"I'll help you though, in any way I can …"

Eros looked to his sister, appreciation written on his face, "Whatever happens, we'll go through this together … as a family."

The crown on his head seemed more leaden than golden now. Elvira had never before been thankful that she was a girl, but just for a split second, she was. She couldn't imagine the pain of not being able to mourn your father because you had to be King. Not just King, but a better king. Because everybody would be watching and judging and waiting for the tiniest mistake to swoop in and make off with the crown. For this one moment, Elvira wasn't envious.

"Do we know who did this?" Elvira asked.

"No … If I didn't know any better … I'd say it was the Shadow Beasts or Necromancers," Eros said thoughtfully, "But the Beasts have been extinct since the war and Necromancers haven't shown their faces in over a century."

"It was so strange though …"

"I know …" Eros replied, "We're having council meeting come dawn. I'd like you to be there."

"Of course."

"Go clean yourself up Vira," he said softly, "Send someone to help me clean his body as well. I should have done it earlier, but …" He trailed off shaking his head.

She simply nodded, finally understanding, and stood. The stiffness in her legs almost brought her to her knees again, but she locked them in place. She crossed the hall, her footsteps echoing out, despite the padding of her slippers. Just before she exited through the oak-and-iron doors, she cast one final look over her shoulder. Her brother sat hunched over their father's body at the base of the table, his crown glinting in the moonlight. Despite how lively it had been just hours earlier, the room felt like a tomb and her brother, seemed like a fallen god. She left before she was tempted to stay.

The walk to her chambers brought her to the eastern wing of the palace, the one overlooking the valley. Far below, in the folds of the valley, Westfall City sprawled across the orange earth. Hell's River cut like a silver knife right down the middle of the city and snaked down the middle of the valley. On the opposite cliffs, Eyelle Forest rose up with its ancient evergreen firs, a wall of blackness in the dark.

From one of the palace windows, the buildings of Westfall City looked like little more than colorful blobs, densely clustered in the middle of the city and sprinkled out lazily towards its outer rims. The long winding road between the palace and the city was lit with lamps that, from this distance, looked more like a match's flame. The lamps lit both sides of the road, continuing up to the very doors of the palace.

Perched on the burnt orange cliffs of Rage Canyon, the palace of Westfall was one of the most magnificent and awe inspiring pieces of architecture in the world. The entire palace was built of rare moonstone, a white stone that glittered like a diamond beneath the rays of the sun and glowed like its namesake under the cover of darkness. It was massive as well, with thirteen spire towers spread equidistant across the palace. The tallest tower rose from the center like a white needle darting for the heavens, and at its tip snapped the crimson flag emblazoned with a diving hawk that was Westfall's emblem.

Elvira's chambers were in the easternmost tower at the very top. She climbed the stairs, trying to think of anything but her father and brother. Instead, she thought of mourning gowns. Mourning clothes were always all white, and plain. The last time she had worn one was at her mother's funeral, five years earlier. The death of her mother had seemed unfair, her father's was downright outrageous. Elvira's mind jumped to something else, but somehow she always ended up looping back to her father.

When she finally reached her chambers, Elvira slumped against the door exhaustedly. Under normal conditions, the climb wouldn't have even winded her, but the sun was barely starting to tickle the horizon, which meant she'd been awake since the dawn of yesterday. That, combined with the toll yesterday's emotions took on her, made her body incredibly weary.

When she entered the room, the two chamber maids dropped into a curtsy, both avoided her eyes. The two girls had been with her since they were children. They weren't just servants, they were her friends, companions. The room was absent of the usual chit chat and gossip that spouted from their lips. It felt empty, sucked of all livelihood, but maybe that was just her. Elvira sank to the floor as soon as she entered the room, falling to her knees. Neither maid moved, waiting for instruction.

"Nevida, draw me a bath and find me a mourning gown," she ordered, her voice shaking as she tried not to shatter all over again, "Lita, go to the kitchens and send four servants to the ballroom. My brother needs help cleaning my father's body and preparing it for incensing and burning."

Both girls took to their respective tasks without a word. Nevida, the shorter of the two girls, went into the bathing room and began drawing water. One of the perks of Westfall Palace was its amenities. Not many places had running water, let alone running hot water.

The girl came up behind Elvira and gently began unhooking the multitude of buttons that ran the length of the back of the dress. When they were all undone, she slipped the gown from Elvira's shoulders, stood up, and offered the princess her hand. Elvira stared in Nevida's warm honey brown eyes for a moment before accepting her hand. Slowly, Elvira came to her feet and the gown fell tumbled to the floor in a gossamer blue and red mess. She stepped out of her white satin underthings. They were stained crimson too.

"Burn it all," she muttered to Nevida as she made her way into the bathroom, "And toss the ashes into Hell's River."

She knew her request was a little over the top, but she never wanted to see those clothes again. The bathtub was large, luxurious, and befit her status as Princess of Westfall. It was in the center of the round bathing room, facing the large window that had an impressive view of the valley. Nevida had filled the copper basin just over halfway with warm water, rose petals, and buttermilk. At least she would smell good, and be soft. Elvira stepped into the tub, sank into the water, and closed her eyes.

She felt as if it was only for a moment, but when Nevida shook her awake, the sun was steadily rising, casting pinks, and oranges into the previously black sky. Elvira stared at the colors, avoiding looking at Nevida. She knew she had duties to attend to now. She knew her brother was probably awaiting her at the council meeting, but she needed just one more moment. Taking a deep breath, Elvira quickly submerged herself beneath the warmth of the water. It was peaceful, and just what she needed. When she rose from the water, Nevida immediately handed her a warm thick cotton towel. Elvira stepped out of the tub and dried herself off.

"Your brother expects you at the council meeting in fifteen minutes," she said softly, her tone even.

"I thought as much," Elvira sighed, "Braid my hair into a crown."

Elvira sat in front of a mirror while Nevida worked, quick and deft fingers twisting and tucking her hair into an elaborate braided crown. If she couldn't wear a real one, let her hair act as one, just for now. Just until Eros was firm in his standing.

When her hair was finished, Nevida brought her some clean white satin underthings and the mourning gown. She slipped the underthings on and Nevida helped her with the gown. It was plain cotton and brushed the floor in length. The waist was wrapped with a piece of white satin that was in keeping with the latest fashion, but still simple. Elvira finally put on a pair of plain brown slippers and studied herself in the mirror. To her own eyes, she looked weary.

"You truly are beautiful," Nevida mumbled.

She was. She knew it. It wasn't a bad thing necessarily, beauty could be a weapon if honed and wielded correctly. It was the only weapon she was allowed, so she had learned to use it well.

"Nevida," she said softly, "Prepare my room for when I return. I'll be hungry and tired."

The girl dipped her chin. It was time to show the Vaelfyre strength.