Prologue
A Quarrel

AZ 1450 - Early Summer
Castle Zephyr, Hesperia, Zephyr

Daphne was worried about her elder brother Carpos. He had always been a moody young man, but he had become more withdrawn than usual in recent months. Was it the war that troubled him? Though it was not certain yet, it seemed like both their mother and father would travel to the Darklands, which would leave Carpos in charge of the kingdom. Was it the weight of such responsibility that bore so heavily on his mind?
She found him in a shady part of the palace garden, his favorite place to brood. He sat with his hands folded in front of his face as he stared at the ground, a sign he was in deep thought. Though he would become very irate when disturbed, she felt the need to confront him.
"Brother..." she said softly, barely catching his attention. "You have not been yourself lately. What troubles you?"
Carpos looked at her for a moment without saying anything. It was as if his gaze was boring a hole right through her. He had never made her feel so uncomfortable before. She did not like it.
"Do you know about the war Father is planning?" he asked.
"A little..." she replied. "He is going to fight the evils of the Darklands and banish them from the world once and for all."
"And what do you think will happen when they reach the Darklands?"
Daphne could sense some strong emotions roiling just below the surface, contained for now but threatening to burst out at any moment. She wondered why he was asking such questions. They only added to her discomfort.
"If they stay true and do not falter, they will overcome."
The Princess tried to sound confident, but they were words of reflexive blind faith with no real thought or conviction behind them.
Carpos could see through it easily and asked her disdainfully, "Is that what you really think?"
His tone disturbed her. There was a sinister edge to his voice that was like an icy hand groping in the pit of her stomach. The hairs on the back of her neck began to stand on end.
"Everyone who goes to the Darklands will die," the Prince said coldly. "They will be fodder for the fell beasts or new recruits in the undead legions. This kingdom will be left impoverished and defenseless. The people will rise up and completely overrun the few who remain loyal to the throne. Zephyr will be ruined."
Such a future was unthinkable. How could he say such things?
"That is not true at all," Daphne insisted. "We will triumph."
"We will fail!" Carpos snapped, his anger flaring. "You have heard of the rebels in Notos, have you not? The misguided actions of this kingdom have earned us the resentment of their people. Even now that same spirit of resentment and rebellion is infecting Zephyr as well. Raising an army, building a fleet, all the preparations for this foolish war are a heavy yoke on the common people. They can only bear it so long. They will turn on us in open revolt just as the Notians.
"I will not have it. I will not sit still while Father destroys my inheritance."
Taking offense at the selfish complaint, Daphne found the nerve to stand up to him.
"Is that what all this is about, Brother?" she asked sharply. "Your inheritance?"
"Of course," Carpos replied coolly. "What chance does a halfbreed like me have for keeping the throne if I do not save the people from Father's foolishness? They will not see these ears or these eyes. They will only see their savior."
"This is madness!" Daphne exclaimed.
Carpos sprang up from his seat and closed in on her like a river pike rushing to the kill. He took hold of her wrists and forced her back to a wall, pressing his body against hers. She squirmed a little in a feeble attempt to break free, but he only tightened his grip.
With his mouth next to her ear he whispered, "It is not madness, my dear sister. There is a place by my side if you want it. With you as my queen, the power of our blood will be preserved for my heir."
Like their mother, Daphne had the power to cross over into the minds of others, but she rarely used this power. Even so, she could not help but feel the weight of her brother's forceful will and the burning lusts that set her senses aflame.
"Let me go!" she shouted, attracting the attention of a few palace guards.
Carpos hastily released her and stepped back. Looking around at the approaching guards, he turned and began to walk away, but he had only taken a few steps when he stopped and looked back to her over his shoulder.
"Consider well my offer, Sister," he said. "Decide quickly, for the point of no return is fast approaching."
Daphne fell to her knees as a palace guard hurried to her side. She waved to dismiss him and he dutifully withdrew with a bow.
She wrapped her arms around herself and struggled to calm down. She could not stop shaking. She felt like she had been abandoned naked on a snowcap of the Delate Mountains.
Was Carpos telling the truth or was it some sort of twisted joke? Did he truly intend to claim the throne for himself while their father still lived and reigned? She did not want to believe it, but something deep in her heart told her it was true.