The sun sunk behind the mountains as a canopy of gold, bright amid the blue, bidding the stars to take their place. As the light surrendered, every color changed vibrant hues to tinges of charcoal. There were days I wondered what we gave in return for such gifts of divine magic; perhaps it is our love, perhaps we radiated it into space; perhaps that is our connection to creation beyond the borders of our world, our reality. Perhaps inside I too am gold, a bright flame that burns for another kind. For me, that was a thought as warm as any bright new day, one that tickled my mind as much as my heart.
“Highness?” my best friend and royal guard, Ikarus, called, voice punctuated by a yawn. I sighed, looking away from the sky, and scrambled over the edge of the roof, peering down to the balcony where he was standing. I gave him a sheepish smile. He was tall, with bright orange hair and fair skin. His amber eyes were crinkled in barely suppressed amusement.
“Good evening,” I called down. He rolled his eyes.
“What have I told you about the roof, Thalien?” he asked. I pretended to consider the question.
“That it’s dangerous?” I asked, a laugh breaking through. He rolled his eyes again.
“That you shouldn’t be up there without me. I mean, come on. What if someone tries to hurt you?” he groused. It was my turn to roll my eyes.
“Mother and Father know I’m up here,” I retorted. He scratched his hair.
“And tonight’s when the dignitary from Kulkodar is coming,” he reminded me. A jolt went through me.
“Gods, Ikarus. A little warning next time?” I groaned, clambering down from the balcony and running into my rooms. My maid, Anyreth, was waiting for me, wringing her hands.
“Thank goodness, Highness. I was getting worried there,” she muttered, coming up behind me and yanking my braid out, deft fingers working through my knotted blue hair.
“Am I-ouch...that...argh...late?” I asked them both, wincing every time Anyreth worked another knot out. Anyreth met my gaze in the mirror, violet eyes glaring at me. I didn’t know if it was because of my hair that personally offended her, or if I was actually late.
“The dignitary has already arrived,” Anyreth mumbled, twisting my hair into a braided crown. While she worked, I plucked some sapphire earrings from my jewelry box and threaded them through my delicately arched ears. “Ikarus, her dress is laid on her bed,” Anyreth called to my friend, who was leaning against the doorframe, munching on a dragonstar fruit. He rolled his eyes.
“Must I?” he asked. Anyreth was half his size and twice his age, but the glare she shot him was enough to send him scrambling. He returned just as Anyreth finished my hair and started on my makeup.
One side of my face was beautiful, the side everyone expected of a Princess. The other was an ugly mass of twisted scars that ran the length of my face. They were claw marks from when I was a child. My parents told me it was a dragon’s fault. I didn’t remember anything. My golden eyes were flecked with silver, and my bright blue hair coiled high on my head.
To complement my features, Anyreth had chosen a pale green dress that had a low-cut neckline, but a back that was bare, the only material a simple string that connected the straps to each other. I shooed Ikarus out of the room, but he stole another dragonstar fruit from my bowl before he did. I shimmied out of my trousers and blouse and into the dress. It fit like a glove and I admired myself in the mirror.
Anyreth let out a low whistle.
“You look beautiful, Highness,” she said. I smiled at her through the mirror.
“It’s all because of you,” I told her. She rolled her eyes, but I could see the pleased smile on her face.
“Thalien, it’s time,” Ikarus said, coming into the room. He stopped when he saw me, a small smile spreading across his face. “Well, well, well. The Princess has become a Queen,” he said. I rolled my eyes.
“Let’s go, hotshot. You’re drooling,” I teased, sweeping past him and out of the room. He laughed behind me as we walked out of my rooms.
We made our way to the throne room, talking and speculating about what the dignitary would be like.
“Her Majesty Queen Hironna and Her Consort Prince Cluym, presenting Crown Princess Thalien,” the caller announced as I stepped into the throne room, Ikarus a respectful distance behind me. Courtiers and their husbands waited around the room, murmurs rising from the crowd.
My eyes went to my parents, sitting on their gilded thrones, watching me come to them. My mother’s eyes gleamed in approval and my father shot me a quick smile. As was customary, I stopped at the dais and knelt, my hand over my heart.
“Rise, Daughter,” my mother said, her voice washing over me like a cooling breeze. I rose and walked up the dais and sat down on my throne, slightly smaller than my parents’ but still pretty awe-inspiring.
A voice cleared his throat in front of us and I noticed a fae male standing next to the dais. I hadn’t even noticed him before.
He had jet black hair, green eyes, and looked only a couple of years older than my eighteen years. His eyes locked on mine as he knelt.
“For the benefit of my Daughter, Mallas, explain what you are going to show us,” my mother said. Mallas looked at me as he spoke, talking about his performance. Truth be told, I wasn’t really paying attention to him, my mind was wandering toward the night sky and how amazing it would look tonight. Especially because there was the Black Moon Festival tonight.
I think Mallas knew I wasn’t paying attention because once he finished and I rushed to participate in the polite applause everyone was giving him, his mouth twisted into a wry smirk.
The rest of the evening was spent picking at my dress, fidgeting with my earrings, and wishing everyone was gone. My mother noticed and she shot me a warning glance. To avoid her annoyance, I subsided. But once everyone made their way outside to start the festivities with the traditional star-gazing, I was the first one outside.
Stars filled the sky like pale corn into freshly turned ground. It was the promise of life in the darkness, a sense of warmth springing from the cold. It was a vastness to bring humbleness and an eternal space to bring gratitude for the coziness of home.
We watched in awe as the lights danced above us. The black heavens were the perfect stage upon which the brightest of hues danced. I could have watched the Lights for eternity and always see that it is new, a unique moment and beauty in all of existence.
I didn’t know how long we stood there, eyes turned up, watching the heavens as if starved for every glimmer of light. It felt like years but could have been only a few seconds. Suddenly, like a breath of cold air, darkness spread across the sky, winking out every single star. The excited murmurs turned into worried voices. We were stuck there, watching the darkness spread farther and farther until it engulfed us all into its inky depths.
I couldn’t see anything. Nor hear anything. It was like a damper fell onto my senses. The darkness felt oppressive, malevolent. That wasn’t right. Darkness didn’t have emotions. Darkness couldn’t have feelings. But something felt...off about this darkness.
I walked forward, arms outstretched as to avoid bumping into anything. I walked through what felt like a barrier and with a plunging sound, my ears popped and I could hear again.
That’s when I heard the screeches of something else.
And then the screaming started.