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Chapter 1

“Your world will be over soon, won’t it, dear Bianca?”
The cloaked creature rasped out the syllables one at a time, and each sound pushed Bianca closer toward the cold stone floor. Moonlight splashed across the room from a wall of windows. Even if she could have yelled, no one would have heard her. Pain made her dizzy.
As the assault on her consciousness raged, she struggled to her feet against the heavy stupor overtaking her body. Her limbs shook. The long table in front of her provided only a moment of support before she collapsed upon the solid oak board.
Her vision blurred from the pressure, and a murmur gurgled from her throat as she tried to call out to the Assembly members hunched in their chairs. The maroon wine spilled across the table told of their downfall. Were they unconscious or dead? She couldn’t begin to guess. Her goblet remained almost untouched.
“How easy this was….”
The din of his words made her gaze upward, where a hood surrounded his darkened features. Screams echoed in her head, though no sound broke from her lips.
He knelt beside her and whispered, “Dear Bianca.” His hands caressed full chunks of her raven hair, and he started pulling the strands through his fingers.
Horror traveled down her spine and numbed her. She felt the escape of fainting descend upon her, fogging her mind; how she wanted to drift off and shun the maddening fear. Yet he would not let her. She tried in vain to pull away, but his power over her was too great.
“Don’t.” She must have said it aloud because his grip tightened and he jerked her head back, forcing her to look at him. She gasped as he pulled the cowl away.
Her tormentor had a pallid complexion and a high forehead. Long, wiry auburn hair framed his narrow face, at the center of which sat a nose snubbed like a snout. It was the piercing glare of his eyes that caught her, though. Their intensity made her skin crawl.
“Malefic,” she mouthed, her breath releasing in a terrified wheeze.
He loosened his grasp and eased her to the floor. Then he stepped over her body and slithered to the head of the table, admiring his handiwork.
Bianca’s legs and arms stiffened. Malefic oozed power, and as she watched him, her mind reeled. What had led to such laxness in their security? Where had he come from?
We were betrayed, of course, she thought, as unconsciousness bid her closer to blackness.
Malefic turned and glared into her eyes, a sneer twisting his expression into a grotesque mask. “The Aulic Assembly is mine.” His harsh voice pulled her to the brink. “Father will be pleased.”