Fairest Page 2

She felt no great loss at the death of her parents, who had been gone now for half the long day. Eight artificial nights. Their deaths were terribly gory. They were assassinated by a shell who used his invincibility against the Lunar gift to sneak into the palace. The man had shot two royal guards in the head before making his way to her parents’ bedroom on the third floor, killing three more guards, and slitting her mother’s throat so deeply the knife severed part of her spine. He had then gone down the hallway to where her father was lying with one of his mistresses and stabbed him sixteen times in the chest.

The mistress was still screaming, blood spurts across her face, when two royal guards found them.

The shell murderer was still stabbing.

Levana had not seen the bodies, but she had seen the bedrooms the next morning, and her first thought was that all that blood would make for a very pretty rouge on her lips.

She knew it was not the proper thing to think, but she also did not think her parents would have thought anything better had it been her murdered instead of them.

Levana had managed to eat three-quarters of a pastry and five small berries when her bedroom door opened again. She was immediately angry at the intrusion—the servant was early. Only on the heels of her annoyance did she check that her glamour was still in place. This, she knew, was the wrong order of concern.

But it was her sister, not one of the faceless servants, who swept into her bedroom. “Channary!” Levana barked, pushing the tray away from her. The tea slopped over the sides of the cup, pooling in the saucer beneath. “I have not given you permission to enter.”

“Then perhaps you should lock your door,” said Channary, sliding like an eel across the carpet. “There are murderers about, you know.”

She said it with a smile, wholly unconcerned. And why shouldn’t she be? The murderer had been promptly executed when the guards found him, bloodied knife still in hand.

Not that Levana didn’t think there could be more shells out there, angry enough and crazy enough to attempt another attack. Channary was a fool if she thought otherwise.

Which was part of the problem. Channary was simply a fool.

She was a beautiful fool, though, which was the worst kind. Her sister had lovely tanned skin and dark chestnut hair and eyes that tilted up just right at the corners so that she looked like she was smiling even when she wasn’t. Levana was convinced that her sister’s beauty was glamour-made, certain that no one as horrible on the inside could be so lovely on the outside, but Channary would never confess one way or the other. If there was a chink in her illusion of beauty, Levana had yet to find it. The stupid girl wasn’t even bothered by mirrors.

Channary was already dressed for the funeral, though the dull gray color of the fabric was the only indication that it was made for mourning. The netted skirt jutted out nearly perpendicular to her thighs, like a dancer’s costume, and the body-hugging top was inset with thousands of silver sparkles. Her arms were painted with wide gray stripes spiraling up each limb, then coming together to form a heart on her chest. Inside the heart, someone had scrawled, You will be missed.

Altogether, the look made Levana want to gag.

“What do you want?” asked Levana, swinging her legs out from beneath the blankets.

“To see that you won’t be embarrassing me by your appearance today.” Reaching forward, Channary tugged at the flesh beneath Levana’s eye, an experiment to see if the embedded gemstone would hold. Flinching, Levana knocked her hand away.

Channary smirked. “Thoughtful touch.”

“Less fraudulent than claiming you’re going to miss them,” said Levana, glaring at the painted heart.

“Fraudulent? To the contrary. I shall miss them a great deal. Especially the parties that Father used to throw during the full Earth. And being able to borrow Mother’s dresses when I was going shopping in AR-4.” She hesitated. “Though I suppose now I can simply take her seamstress as my own, so perhaps that is no great loss after all.” With a giggle, she sat down on the edge of the bed and snatched a berry from the breakfast tray, popping it onto her tongue. “You should be prepared to say a few words at the funeral today.”

“Me?” It was an appalling idea. Everyone would be watching her, judging just how sad she was. She didn’t think she could fake it well enough.

“You’re their daughter too. And—” Suddenly, inexplicably choked up, Channary dabbed at the corner of her eye. “I don’t think I’m strong enough to do it all on my own. I’ll be overwhelmed by grief. Perhaps I will faint and require a guard to carry me to someplace dark and quiet to recover.” She snorted, all signs of sadness vanishing as quickly as they had come. “That’s an intriguing idea. Perhaps I can stage it to happen next to that new young one with the curly hair. He seems quite … obliging.”

Levana scowled. “You’re going to leave me alone to guide the entire kingdom in mourning, so that you can frolic with one of the guards?”

“Oh, stop it,” said Channary, covering her ears. “You’re so annoying when you whine.”

“You’re going to be queen, Channary. You’re going to have to make speeches and important decisions that will affect everyone on Luna. Don’t you think it’s time you took that seriously?”

Laughing, Channary sucked at the grains of sugar left on her fingertips. “Like our parents took it so seriously?”

“Our parents are dead. Killed by a citizen who must not have thought they were doing a very good job.”

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