I stood outside the giant oak door and looked around the empty foyer. Even though the dead mainly live here, this castle used to be full of life. There used to be lanterns, but now there are just flickering torches that sputter in the cold drafts, and leave dancing specters that even occasionally catch me off guard. But once, I didn’t feel as fearful of living in my own home. That was before my father was murdered. Our Guardian said it was done by religious fanatics, and pointed to the crucifix burns all over his corpse, and the rosary sticking out of his chest as evidence. The rest of my family took it to heart, but something seemed off to me.
The door slowly creaks open, and I leap back to avoid getting crushed. Darkness spills out from the void behind the oaken shield, and I slowly creep in, balancing on the balls of my feet.
“You have no reason to slink around like a thief, A’Zaira,” my Guardian calls to me, his deep voice echoing in the room. “You were invited here, and you are a princess. Act like one.” The last sentence comes out as a harsh reprimand, and I flinch involuntarily.
“I am no longer a princess, just a wolf. Ravenna took my title when the wolf did not choose her.”
He scoffs. “And you think that is claim enough to ignore what should be yours?” he asks, as a dim, blood-red light flickers into existence, illuminating the cavern-like room.
“The wolf takes a higher precedence over royal claims. Lucifer said so when he first allowed the Court of Shadows to be created. There is nothing I can do,” I reply, staring at the back of his leather chair.
He is silent, and I feel the impression of him smiling. “What if I changed the rules?” he asks as he turns around.
I gasp, and drop to one knee in a reverent bow. “Lucifer! Milord, I meant no disrespect,” I stammer quickly. Lucifer has been our Guardian since my father’s death?
“Quit groveling, I know that you don’t respect me as much as your family thinks you do.” Lucifer stands and slowly walks around his stone desk, his well-manicured fingers brushing the jagged stone edges. “What would you say if I could make you the next queen of the Shadow Court?” he asks, his tone weighted.
“What is in it for you?” I ask, slowly raising my eyes to meet his. “You never make a bargain without taking something for yourself.”
He smiles, his white teeth glinting against his tan skin in the dim red light. “You always were such a smart one, the smartest of them all.” He sighs and leans against the desk. “Fine, I’ll tell you. I want your sister.”
Lucifer nods. “She is your only sister, correct? She may be beautiful, but she’s a bumbling idiot who couldn’t find the end of her own nose if she was cross-eyed.”
I swallow, knowing that nothing good can come if he’s telling me reasons behind his demands. “If you think so lowly of her, then why do you want her?”
“Because, A’Zaira, in three days, I will kill your entire family. I am giving you one last chance to restore the Court of Shadows to its former glory. Do you really think that can happen under Ravenna?” he asks as he waves his hand. A small tumbler of brandy appears, and he inhales the scent before downing the entire drink. “Answer me!” he screams at me as the tumbler shatters on the wall behind my head.
“No,” I say softly, trying to think of a way to escape.
“No,” he repeats to himself. “No! Of course it can’t! You are the last chance that I am giving this court. All of your ancestors were such idiots, they thought they could actually have power. A’Zaira, you’re smart. You know that you would just be a figurehead. All you’d have to do is just look pretty and pretend to rule. You can do that, right?”
I nod when he looks to see my response.
“All you have to do is kill your sister.”