As is custom in Aquebonica, all windows and doors of the palace are draped in black silk to mark the passing of the queen. The once-bright castle now seems like a giant black beast, draining the entire city of all feelings other than grief. I stand in the throne room with my hand on my mother’s throne, shrouded in my own grief-locked world.
I look up and see Derek standing in front of me.
“Are you ready?”
“For what?” I ask, momentarily confused.
A ghost of a smile flickers across his face. “To start planning…”
“Oh,” I say softly. “Right.”
He wraps me in a strong hug. “Alyessia, I’m so sorry about this. If I could reverse it, I would.”
I close my eyes and press my face against his chest. I’m not sure how long we stand like that, but eventually the door creaks open and Boss walks in, dressed all in black.
“Princess? We must go.”
Derek lets me go and I take a step forward, and would’ve fallen if Derek’s strong arms hadn’t caught me. With his arm around my waist, and Boss on my other side walking with us, I manage to walk out of the throne room and to the courtyard where the mortician is waiting, with swatches of fabric and other things necessary to plan my mother’s funeral.
“Crown Princess,” he says with a stiff bow. Maybe he’s been injected with embalming fluid…
He turns to Boss and they talk about the formalities of the funeral, the things I’m trying not to think about. I stare at the different fabrics for a few minutes, and then at the ground below the stone bench they’re standing on. As I watch the ground, a small stem starts to push through. The stem grows, and a small bud forms at the top. Boss and the mortician have stopped talking and are watching me watching the plant. Before our eyes, the bud blooms into a gorgeous pale pink flower shaped like a tiger-lily, but with longer and more elegant petals. The flower shakes, and silver pollen falls from it.
“Alyessia, did you…?” Derek’s voice trails off.
“I…think I did,” I finally say, still staring at the flower. It’s a rare flower, and one of my mother’s favorite flowers, which is why she named one of her daughters after it. That’s why she named me Alyessia. I gently pick the flower and twirl it between my fingertips.
“What are you thinking, Princess?” Boss asks with concern.
I keep my back to them and slowly look up at Gwen’s statue, meeting its blank stare. “I’m thinking that my mother would want me to be like an alyessia.”
“She’d want you to be fragile and weak?” the mortician asks, confused.
I shake my head. “She’d want me to do something surprising and get rid of whoever or whatever is destroying my family.”