Azoah Espere, princess of the kingdom of Tavela, was born during a thunderstorm.
In fact, the cover of cloud was so dark that, for three consecutive weeks, darkness reigned.
Azoah, but a babe in the comfort of her mother's womb, was pushed out whilst the black clouds pushed in.
Surely, the nobles whispered, it was a bad omen. Perhaps the Dark God himself watched the princess's birth from the clouds.
The royal astrologer claimed that the birth did indeed bring with it bad tidings. This child, though only a babe, would grow to be ruinous.
The queen banished him from the court for his insolence. "Ridiculous," she told her husband, cradling her new-born babe close. "Superstitious nonsense."
"Of course," the king replied. "Nonsense."
And indeed, at first, it seemed as though the astrologer's worries were for naught. As Azoah grew, she appeared to be perfectly normal.
A little quick to anger, perhaps, and somewhat hard to discipline, but certainly not ruinous.
When Azoah was six-years-old, the ariava infected the city. It was a vicious disease--one that took the mind before it took the body.
On the king's orders, the Royal House was put on lockdown, all gates barred and relentlessly monitored by his Regiment.
No one, he swore, would meet the same fate his father and elder brother had years before in the ariava's first pandemic.
That afternoon, Azoah started hearing the voice--the first manifestation of the disease's madness. By nightfall, she was senseless and hallucinating.
The next morning, she was declared officially dead.
The queen didn't cry when she saw her daughter's body. Instead, she ordered the maidservant who had found her to carry her to the holy room, where she was laid down on the stone altar.
With an order to never speak of this moment again, the queen sent the maidservant from the room and got to work.
You see, the queen, despite magic being illegal in her own country, was a witch. A necromancer, to be precise--she could raise the dead.
And so the queen summoned her dark magic and tugged her daughter's soul from where it lingered in the in-between, the space between worlds.
The queen wouldn't know it yet--she wouldn't know anything other than the joy she felt when she sensed the furious thump-thump of her daughter's heart--but she had enacted a chain of events that would ultimately be her undoing.
At first, nothing seemed amiss. The queen never told the king nor anyone else what had befallen their daughter, and Azoah didn't seem inclined to talk about it, either.
Whenever the queen would ask her what had happened to her during her brief foray into death, Azoah would only shake her head.
"Nothing," she would say. "Nothing at all."
It was a lie, of course, for although no one knew it yet, Azoah Espere had changed.
As the years passed, the princess felt it more and more, even if no one else did. She felt the ugly temper that she couldn't tame.
She felt the sweat on her skin when she woke from vicious dreams, her head full of fangs and rage and blood. She felt the vengeful spirit within her--even over the smallest of slights.
And she heard the man in her head. The one with the soft voice and the cruel words. The one that called her 'little wolf'. The one that told her to make them pay, make them pay, make them pay.
Sometimes, Azoah would walk down the Royal House's corridors, just watching the people pass.
She'd see the court women who would look at her and titter--likely at her wild snarl of hair and bare feet. She'd see the tutors who condescended to her in lessons.
She'd see the lords who would leer at her, though she was barely twelve.
And she'd imagine knocking them over. One by one. Like dominoes.
"And you and you and you," she would whisper, lining them up in the sight of her invisible crossbow.
When she was thirteen, Azoah attempted to sneak out into the city. She donned a maidservants outfit and tried to slip out of the eastern gate.
Two guards caught her and dragged her to her father, who had her locked in the dungeons for the night as punishment.
Azoah pleaded with him, but he didn't listen. He never listened.
The prison guard her father sent to watch over her was sour-faced and ugly, reeking of wine and violence.
He beat her in the blackness of the cell, punching her in the gut until she was curled up and whimpering.
Azoah's throat dammed. She couldn't speak, couldn't even cry. The fear was blind and feral. An animal fear. It was quiet, for a moment. All Azoah could hear was the guard's angry breaths. Then--
It exploded from her palms and arms, uncontrolled, undisciplined. She was all heat and smoke.
The guard gasped and retreated to the opposite end of her cell, watching her, mouth agape. Azoah tried to bite back her panic, tried to smother the flames, but the magic just burned and burned.
"Witch," the guard spat.
Azoah turned towards him, feeling the bruises along her ribs and stomach throb. She felt the snarl split her lips.
You know what you have to do, said the voice in her head.
Azoah lifted her hands and burnt him alive.
Later, when the queen found her, she disposed of the guard's charred remains and put Azoah to bed. "We'll start training tomorrow," she said softly.
"Training for what?" asked Azoah.
"Magic." The queen smiled, small and hesitant. "You've finally manifested your magic, little witch."
For months, Azoah trained with her mother. The queen hoped she could teach her daughter discipline, but Azoah only became more unruly. The magic inspired in her something vicious.
Now, not only did she have the will to hurt people, she also had the means.
Of course, she couldn't ever openly use her magic, for fear of the witch-hating king's wrath, but she could imagine it.
She could imagine all the things she'd do one day when she was strong enough.
It quickly became clear that Azoah had a penchant for death--she shared her mother's skill for necromancy, the darkest magic of all.
She could snap bone with a mere touch, raise the dead, summon flame.
And all the while, the voice continued to whisper dark thoughts in her ear. The Dark God, the voice called itself.
Sometimes, Azoah would sneak into the city--successfully, now--and sit in the cesspit of a gambling den known as the Haunt.
One time, when she was seventeen, she spied an Aretinan boy with golden eyes and raven hair, drinking with a skinny slip of a companion.
"That's Zaire Finn, the Crime Lord," the bartender told her reverently, unaware that he was speaking to his princess.
Azoah eyed the Crime Lord speculatively, noting the way he watched the world. Like a predator. Her lips twitched.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, the Dark God purred with pleasure.