Chapter one:

The smell of death and the sounds of people crying out for help circled throughout the air as my guards and I strolled through the streets of Irelee, which had been known as the most poverty-stricken city in all of Eldrich. It was also known for carrying the highest number of Lyasin cases, a deadly virus that had plagued the entire kingdom of Eldrich just over a year ago. Unfortunately, only those who were wealthy or of royal descent were fortunate enough to survive the virus, as treatment options had only been offered to those who were deemed important or worthy enough by my father, King Arius.

A part of me always questioned his reasoning behind choosing who did and did not deserve to receive treatments, but I didn't dare confront him about it. I knew better than to publicly question any of the decisions made by either of my parents, especially if those decisions had been made by my father.

Everyone watched in awe as my guards escorted me through Irelee. I did my best to try and hide my identity, ensuring that the hood of my cloak was covering my face and had guards placed on either side of me, but that didn't stop the locals from discovering that Princess Lila Rothchester of Eldrich was wandering the streets of their small city. My heart sank at the sight of all the dying locals. Most of them had resorted to selling their homes or bidding their children or themselves to my father in hopes that it would cover the costs of treatment, but it was never enough. Even if it was, my father would never let a less than receive proper care because, like he has told me before, they weren't important enough. That they were traitors towards the kingdom and have done so little for our country.

According to my father, the less than's had long ago tried to overthrow the kingdom of Eldrich, despite having once promised to live amongst peace with Rothchester royals. However, once that pledge had been broken, my ancestors swore to never again trust those coming from a less than bloodline ever again, and that oath has remained unbroken throughout the rest of our generations. It was a shame that our genealogies were still running off of decades old rivalries, but a betrayal is a betrayal, and, from a young age, I was taught how awful it was to betray your own country and its rulers.

We walked past a young, dying woman whose children laid beside her. I'm not sure how, but she managed to grab a hold of my ankle. The woman looked me dead in the eyes and said: "Help us.. Please, save our souls.." Before one of my guards smashed her hand with his baton, and the woman yelped, immediately retracting her hand. My body jolted and I tried to make sure that she was alright, but Samuel, one of my best guards and closest friends, placed his hand on my elbow and forced me to keep moving. Don't feel sorry for her, Lila, I thought, scorning myself. Remember your father's words: these people are nothing but traitors. So I put my head down and continued on.

Our journey back home was silent. Thankfully, Irelee wasn't too far away from Miranyth, maybe about an hour walk at most. Samuel stayed tight to my side, as if I were to run away at any given moment. I scoffed and he looked at me strangely before asking, "What?"

"I'm not going to run back to that woman, if that's what you're thinking." I said coldly. His body tensed. "You know, your father would have you whipped if he learned that you, even for a split second, thought about helping one of the less than's." He snarled. This time, my body tensed. My father could be a wicked man at times, even to his own children. Once, when my older brother Maxim was eleven, he was caught playing with one of the children of Irelee by my father. He immediately had both children taken down to the torture chambers and be whipped twenty times each. I was forced to watch, despite being only six years old at the time. Let this act as a reminder, my father told me, to never disobey our kingdoms rules and blatantly betray our bloodline.

I listened, of course, because the thought of receiving twenty lashes scared the ever loving Gods out of me.
I let out a sigh before turning my gaze to Samuel. "I'm sorry. I don't know what got over me. I-I just had this sudden urge to help her and-" Samuel put his hand up and gave me a sympathetic smile.
"It's alright. Don't worry about it. I won't tell your father what happened, and I certainly will make sure that none of my men tell him about it either." He said the last bit rather loud, ensuring that each of his men heard and understood him. I felt instant relief. Of course Samuel wouldn't dare try to get me in trouble because he knew how cruel my father sometimes was. Only the Gods know how many secrets he and his men have kept for me; how many times he has ensured that I will not face my father's wrath, despite having broken some of the rules. He was a good man. Although, I feared that one day my father would become aware of all the secrecy and sentence Samuel to death. It would be a gruesome death, one that Samuel did not deserve. But, nonetheless, Samuel remained persistent in protecting me regardless of my constant reminders to him about the potential consequences that await him.

Our arrival back to the castle didn't go unnoticed, as my brother and one of his closest friends, Clayton, Prince of the Nortons, were practicing dueling out in the front courtyards. Maxim wore his suit of armor that was a darkened silver, and lined with red, gold, and gray jewels- Eldrich's kingdom colors. His sword carried those same jewels as well, as they were carefully placed all along its pommel. My brother was proud of his country; loved it so dearly, in fact, and never missed a chance to show off its colors.
Off to the side of them was my brothers betrothed, Gwyneth, Princess of Vertice. She was unbearably snobby and wanted nothing more than to take my mother's crown, and to call herself the new Queen of Eldrich. My blood boiled at the thought of that. She would make for the worst queen ever known to exist, with all of her royal temper tantrums and selfish ways. My brother wasn't the finest of people, however, so I guess it was a match made in heaven.

"Well, look who's back," Maxim grinned. "And how was your journey to Irelee, my dear sister?"
"Uneventful," I said blankly. "It appears as though the Lyasin death rates are multiplying, though." "Well, good," Gwyneth chimed in, "I don't understand why you would even want to visit that repulsive city in the first place." I merely rolled my eyes at her. It was too bad her family was of royal descent, she is one of the few people that I wouldn't mind seeing fall victim to that deadly disease.
"Our father needed more intel on the growth of the virus, so he sent my sister out to do the job." Maxim scoffed, clearly still mad that our father had sent me instead of him. He assumed it was because our father didn't think he was good enough to be sent out, when, in reality, it was because his wedding was in almost a month, and our parents certainly did not want anything happening to their beloved son a month before his wedding.

My eyes shifted towards Clayton, who had been snickering at Maxim's anger. Clayton must have known my gaze was upon him, as his eyes met mine; an unsettling smile slowly creeping onto his face. He had this undying obsession with me that began when I was twelve and he was fifteen. Awfully disturbing, if you ask me. I dreaded each time he visited; he was most definitely on my list of people I wouldn't mind seeing get stricken Lyasin.

"Excuse me for interrupting, Your Royal Highness," Samuel grinned and I gave him a dirty look. He knew how much I hated him calling me that. "But are you ready to go back inside?" He continued.
I sighed. "I guess so." And he and his men led me back into the castle.

I dismissed Samuel and his men, and made my way to my father's chancery. Dominic, the guard who was in charge of standing outside the chancery, stood in his normal position. He bowed as soon as he saw me and said, "Your Highness."
"Dominic," I smiled. "Is my father available?" He shook his head. Of course he wasn't.
"Unfortunately, His Royal Highness is in a meeting right now with The King of Vertice."
"Do you have any idea when they'll be finished?" I asked. He just shrugged and shook his head slightly. Knowing my father, if him and Gwyneth's father were having a meeting, it was most likely to be about their children's wedding and how they would merge their royal families together once the wedding was over.

I cringed at the thought of that nightmare becoming my sister-in-law, and I cringed even more at the thought of her someday ruling Eldrich. I could only pray that she didn't start wars over ridiculously minor inconveniences, and that my brother would at least try to stop her from making hasty decisions.
"Is everything alright, Your Highness?" Dominic asked, making note of my discomfort. I straightened my dress slightly, pretending as if it had been bothering me. I looked up and smiled at him.
"Of course," I replied.

My father's meeting with The King of Vertice didn't last too much longer, maybe fifteen minutes at most. The two of them shook hands as they exited the chancery, laughing and talking about how they cannot wait for their families to become one. I curtsied when Theodore, The King of Vertice, turned around and faced me. He bowed in return and said, "Good afternoon, Lila." "Good afternoon to you, too." I replied. He shook my father's hand once more and said, "We shall meet again soon." Before striding back to the castle's main entrance.

My father's icy blue eyes turned dark as soon as the king left, and he turned his attention over to me. He gestured for me to enter his office, and so I did, seating myself in the chair situated in front of his ebony desk. He interlaced his fingers and set his elbows on the desk, staring directly at me, as if waiting for me to say something.
"The death rates are increasing," I started, my voice shaking slightly. The way he looked at me sent chills slithering down my spine, and made me want to run out the door. It felt as if I even made one wrong move when speaking to him, that I would face instant punishment. Nonetheless, I cleared my throat and continued with what I was about to say.
"If I had to guess, I would say at least seventy percent of Irelee's population has been stricken with Lyasin."

A slight grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Good," he replied. "Let them all suffer and endure a slow, painful death." His remark was enough to make the hairs on my arms stand up on end. He truly hated these people so much, that he would go as far as to wish horrible deaths upon all of them.
"Is that all you have for me, my dear?" He asked. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat before shaking my head "no." He waved his hand at me, signaling that I am free to go. I eagerly got up from my chair and headed towards the door, my hand just reaching for the doorknob before my father stopped me and said: "If there are any survivors, enslave them all." My heart leapt as he said that. No one in our bloodline, until now, had suggested placing all of the less than's into slavery. I didn't say anything, though, and just nodded my head.

"As you wish," I said, and left the room.