Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
The main hall was alive in a way that Orion had never seen. Drunken chatter and laughter mixed with music and singing in a stunning cacophony of sound and life. From his seat at the high table, the boy could see everything; the knights, for once free of armour, talking to the young maids of the court, lords and ladies regaling each other with stories from their own lands, servants bringing food almost exactly on the hour, every hour. It created a sense of awe in him, the likes of which he'd never felt in his life.
Orion was small, but still looked the picture of regal. His sandy blonde hair was cut short, but still just long enough that it moved when he tilted his head. His eyes, an impressive sky-blue, were wide with wonder and sparked with the innocence of youth. A dark blue tunic with intricate patterns of gold thread covered his torso and his trousers were slightly too big for him, but he liked it. The cloak he'd worn when he entered the room, a silk-lined trail of black and green, had been discarded onto his seat at the first opportunity. He really hated cloaks. The gold and silver band of metal that surrounded the top of his head was, arguably, one of the brightest things in the room. His crown was small, like the rest of him, but that didn't make it any less impressive. The metal was weaved and interlocked, almost like thorns on a rosebush. Even at six, he looked like a king.
A strong hand on his shoulder made him jump, drawing a chuckle from the man behind him. "It's alright, son. It's only me." Orion turned quickly, a wide smile on his face as he came face-to-face with a large man with broad shoulders, dirty blonde hair and kind grey eyes.
"Father!" He exclaimed, jumping into the man's arms. Prince Elric gave a small, but genuine smile, lifting the boy onto his shoulders.
"Where's your sister?" He asked. Orion looked around the room until his eyes locked on a pale purple dress and long blonde hair pulled back with a deep red ribbon.
"Over there!" He said, pointing to the corner of the room. A giggle escaped him as his father all but ran over to a slightly quieter part of the room, where a woman with light brown hair and a midnight blue dress was holding the little girl.
"Ellia! Isolt!" Called the prince, prompting the woman to turn to him. The girl smiled broadly and started bouncing in her mother's arms. Elric pressed a kiss to his wife's cheek, then ruffled the girl's hair, jostling the small, silver tiara on her head. "Enjoying the party ladies?" He asked. The princess chuckled quietly.
"I think Isolt has told every woman in this room that they look amazing."
"Especially you Mama!" Chimed in Isolt, causing her brother to nod vigorously from his place on Elric's shoulders.
"I have to agree with them Ellia, you look radiant." Elric's attention turned to his daughter, "As do you, Lady Isolt." The girl in question blushed and buried her face in her mother's hair. Her lilac dress almost reached her feet but stopped just short. Her pale, but not sickly so, face housed the same blue eyes as her brother, but with the addition of a few freckles across her nose. Her hair, decidedly lighter than Orion's, reached well beyond her shoulders and was currently tied back with a crimson ribbon.
Two people walked in front of the high table, an older man and woman with their hands linked. The woman was tall, with fair shoulder-length hair, soft green eyes and small wrinkles starting to form. Her green dress reached the floor and pooled around her feet. Beside her, was a large man, with well-built muscles and an imposing form. A blue tunic with silver stitching and a pair of black trousers adored his figure and a long black and silver cloak trailed behind him. The most impressive part of his outfit, however, was the large, gold and jewel crown that rested upon his head. His hair was a dark brown that had begun to grey slightly and his blue eyes sparkled with wisdom as he raised a glass in the air. The room fell silent. The man smiled kindly.
"My friends!" His voice was strong, yet conveyed genuine happiness, "I cannot thank any of you enough for attending this wonderful celebration in honour of a very special day. The day that my dear wife was born." The Queen smiled as a cheer rose through the hall, her grandchildren's voices carrying over everyone else's with ease. "Laurel, you grow fairer every year and you are responsible for giving me my greatest joy. My daughter." He extended an arm over to where Ellia was standing and Elric chuckled at the slight tinge of pink that spread across her cheeks. As the King continued his speech, Orion's focus shifted away from him and towards the other side of the hall. He knew that he should be listening, but something had caught his attention.
A figure, cloaked in black robes and a hood, was stood in the back corner on the opposite side of the room. The figure was alone, and the darkness of his clothes made him appear as nothing but a shadow. His face was barely visible, but Orion could just about make out his eyes. The child leaned forward, gripping the fabric of his father's shirt tightly. Something about the figure made him feel uneasy. Something about his eyes...
"And to my grandchildren," Orion's attention snapped back to the King at the mention of him and Isolt, "I sincerely hope that the two of you have enjoyed this ball. One day, this, along with Iyuna, will all be yours." Applause and cheers broke out as it became clear his speech was over and Orion looked back to where the figure had been. For a second, he swore that the man shimmered before the black figure vanished entirely. Less than a second later, he appeared before the high table, directly behind Queen Laurel.
Guards drew their weapons quickly, but the man was faster. Reaching into his cloak, he pulled out a sharp dagger, grabbed the Queen's arm, pulled her in front of him and held the dagger to her throat. A startled gasp escaped the crowd.
"If anyone moves, I'll slice her open." His voice was cold, calm and seemed to echo off the walls. Turning to the King, he pulled the hood down. His face was gaunt, bones visible through too-thin skin. Black, steely eyes were sunken into his face and were framed by dark circles. Around his neck, dangling from a small piece of leather hung a wooden carving of a lion with its teeth bared. A wicked smile formed on his face as he looked at the King. "Hello, Ferris." He said, casually, "Remember your old friend?"
Ferris took a step towards him, "You lost the right to call yourself my friend the day you betrayed me, Tobin."
Elric lifted Orion down from his shoulders, prompting Ellia to do the same with Isolt. "Hide." Whispered Ellia, "Find a table, a fireplace, an entrance to the kitchens if you have to. Just get as far away from that man as you can without letting him see you." Orion grabbed Isolt's hand, but neither child moved. Elric placed a hand on Orion's arm.
"Everything is going to be okay. I promise." He muttered.
Ellia pressed a kiss into Isolt's hair.
"I love you both," She said, "Now go!" Orion all but dragged his sister away from their parents, their small statures making it easy to move unseen. Reaching a small table tucked in the corner, half engulfed in shadows, the two ducked under it and held onto each other tightly.
"I never betrayed you, Ferris." Tobin's voice was still casual, too casual for a man holding a knife to someone's neck. "I did my duty as a Shifter and aided someone who needed protecting. You're the one that killed the only family I had left!
"You and your brother harboured a criminal and when my guards tried to arrest him, your brother killed one of them." Ferris' voice was dangerously calm too and he took yet another step forward, "I had no choice but to execute him."
"You could have given him a quick death, but instead you chose to burn him while you left me alive!" The dagger was pressed further into Laurel's neck. "I'm going to make sure you regret that." Snarled Tobin, a sick grin on his face. He moved his face close to the Queen's ear and whispered: "Sorry Laurel." Then, in one swift movement, he sliced the dagger across her throat, drawing screams from the crowd.
"You bastard!" Screamed Ellia, while Elric drew his sword. Ferris rushed forwards to catch his wife's body as the man, once again, shimmered and vanished. People started sprinting to the exit, completely blocking the children's view of the chaos. Orion covered Isolt's ears and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. He heard a sword clang onto the floor, his mother's scream and then...nothing. Opening his eyes slowly, the boy took in his surroundings. Most of the guards had their swords drawn, but the man was nowhere to be seen. His grandfather was kneeling on the floor, clutching the unmoving body of the Queen. If Orion didn't know better, he'd almost think that Ferris was crying. Then his eyes found his parents.
Crawling out from his hiding spot, Orion made his way over. The Crown Prince and Princess were lying, face down, their fingertips touching. A pool of red surrounded them, most of it seeping into their clothes. "Father?" He called as he approached, "Mother?" Neither of them moved. His foot made contact with something metallic and he looked down. A golden hilt shaped like a phoenix attached to a short sword. Oathkeeper. His father's sword. He knelt down and grasped the hilt firmly, lifting it as he stood. It was heavier than he'd imagined.
"Are they alright?" Orion turned at the sound of his sister's voice. Isolt had crawled out too and was now stood a little way behind him. He extended his hand towards her and she stepped forward to grasp it.
"I want them dead." The two turned towards the high table at the sound of the King's voice. He was still cradling his wife in his arms, bloodshot eyes locked on the body of his daughter. "I want every single Shifter in Iyuna dead!" His voice, grief-stricken but powerful, echoed off the walls and filled the silence, "Burn their camps, alters, amulets, anything and everything they own. Kill every last one. That's an order!"
So this is the first thing I've ever published on here and I'm kind of in desperate need of feedback. I hope you enjoy it! This is the prologue of The Shifter Chronicles.