The room was deathly silent save for the ruffle of clothing and the soft hum of the air conditioning. Her relatives looked back and forth between themselves and Orianna, unwilling to speak for fear of her mothers wrath.
Orianna looked down at her wine, swirled it for a second a took a sip before setting her glass down.
She held Emilies stare with a face devoid of any emotions as she spoke.
”Philomene is dead. ”
Emilie blinked in shock, one hand gripping the counter to hold herself upright. ”What? ” She whispered, unable to make anything else come out.
Esther put her arm on Emilies shoulder, the first physical contact shed had with her sister in a century.
”three days ago. ” Esther confirmed, ”Philly was part of the trails for the Midnight Throne. ”
Emilie swore, her anger so strong that her magic shattered her wine glass, sending shards and expensive wine scattering over the kitchen island and causing her relatives to jump in surprise.
Esther waved a free hand and the glass shards and spilled wine vanished, doing what she could to take care of her older sister in her sadness and anger.
Emilie looked back at her mother, her face red in anger as tears gathered in her eyes.
”What the f*** was Philly doing part of the trails? ” she bit out through her tears.
Witches didn have a king or queen, they had the Heir to the Midnight Throne, their seat of power. The Heir was advised by the heads of each clan, but ultimately, the Heir made all final decisions on law and order.
When the Heir died, either by honest means or foul, the next Heir was chosen by a series of trials that the Throne itself created. Each trial was different than any that came before in history, ensuring that no clan could ever have a monopoly and thus giving legitimacy to the new Heir.
It was customary that each clan to offer one of their own as a challenger for the Throne, but it was not without risks. Challengers were often pitted to the death against great beasts from across the planes or even each other.
”The f*** was she doing there!? ” Emilie shrieked, the windows rattling with her displeasure. ”How far did she even make it!? ”
It was Gaspard who answered quietly, almost apologetically, ”The second round. ”
Emilie shouted another curse word and the lights flickered. She turned her anger towards Orianna, who had said nothing this entire time. ”You knew she wasn strong enough! Every time you forced us into the fighting ring as children it was always Philly who was taken out on a stretcher while I never had a mark! No matter how much money and resources you invested into your perfect heir, you knew shed never be powerful enough to take the Throne! Why! Why would you let her die!? ”
Orianna took another sip of her wine as if her daughters outburst were merely the squeaking of an insignificant bird. Setting her glass back down, she looked at Emilie without any remorse or emotion.
”Philomene knew the risks. She chose to be a challenger. ”
”Did she? ” Emilie spat, ”Or was her putting her life on the line expected? Since she was born, haven you drilled it into her brain that she would be a challenger? Did it ever come into question if she wanted to do this? ”
”Your sister knew what was expected of her. ” Orianna argued back, ”She knew that someday shed challenge. ”
”And it was a suicide mission! ” Emilie shouted. Everyone around the table was watching them, awkwardly shuffling their feet, but she didn care. ”Philly never had what it takes to be a challenger, and you know it! When you sent us to do your dirty work, it was always me, or Maxime, or gods rest his soul brother Alceste that got hour hands bloody. Philly never had the mind for strategy or the strength for war. She was never going to be a leader, and you sent her to the trails anyway! Why!? You could have ended my banishment and sent me in her stead! ”
Orianna held her head high as if she was above reproach. ”Because it was her duty. ” was all she said, but Emilie saw through her words.
Blinking back her tears, she felt her heart constricting in her chest. ”Gods above, ” she whispered in disbelief, ”You sent her because of me. You forced her to participate in the trials because I would have been a true leader while she would have done as you told while you were a puppet behind the throne. I was someone you couldn control, and you couldn bear to have your wild daughter on the throne. ”
No one defended Oriannas actions against Emilies accusations. Not one person was willing to stand up and say that Emilie was wrong because they knew that she was right.
They knew that Orianna would rather have her daughter dead than have someone she couldn control on the Throne.
But as none would rebuke Emilies words, they wouldn defend Orianna either. As head of the clan chosen by the previous clan head, Orianna had ruled with an iron fist. In her long, long life, she had sent many clan members to their deaths all for the sake of her ambitions while saying it was for the good of the family.
Emilie didn believe that. She herself was proof that single women could build an empire without needing to rely on the great and honorable Delacroix name. Though she hadn looked at the clans financials, she could tell that she had probably outclassed them in terms of wealth at least a decade ago.
While all their clothes were name brand and well made, they were not the runway designer brands that Emilie wore on a daily basis. She was also clued into this by their reaction to the wine. A hundred years ago when shed been welcome in the clan, a $500,000 bottle of wine would have been on the table at every dinner. Now, they were all shocked that shed man-handle such a bottle without any regard for its cost.
The way they looked around her home in shock and their expressions when she told them that she was exponentially wealthy all led her to believe that the family was worse off now than they were when she was banished. Not destitute, but noticeably more careful with their coin.
Emilie had been catering to the whims of the rich and the famous for over a hundred years and knew that when the upper class started to lose money, they started to get desperate for more.
She could guess that Orianna had seen the Midnight throne as a means to raise their status even higher and make the Delacroix clan a very desirable business partner.
Emilie felt sick to her stomach at the realization that her sisters sacrifice was for nothing but her mothers ambitions.
She took a swallow of wine, but the exquisite vintage felt sour in her belly with what had transpired in the last ten minutes.
”When is her funeral. ” She asked quietly, but the silence in the room made it so that everyone could hear her words.
”Tomorrow at sunset. ” Esther answered, her arm still around her comfortingly through her older sisters outburst.
Emilie nodded and placed both hands on the kitchen island as if bracing herself to hold back everything that she was feeling. After some time, she finally said evenly, ”Leave. I will see you tomorrow. ”
”You will leave with us this instance, daughter. ” Orianna ordered, but a sudden blast of energy stopped her command. It was so strong that it knocked her back slightly, and one of her uncles had to reach out to help keep her steady.
”You have no control over me, mother. ” Emilie hissed between gritted teeth. Her tendrils of red hair were inundating as if alive with the amount of power that she was giving off. The suffocating energy was so strong that even her sister Esther let her go and took a step back as if they had all forgotten that Emilie was of equal power to Orianna.
”You forsake any authority you had over me when you abandoned me on the streets of Poland during the First World War. I legally renounced your name a long time ago and as such, you have no power over me. Leave now on your own two feet or I will remove you myself. And trust me, you will be in more pieces now than when you entered my domain. ”
Orianna gritted her teeth and her eyes flashed with green fury at her daughters rebellion. Black power poured off of her as if in a challenge, and everyone moved as far as they could away from the two raging witches.
Usually, when Orianna and Emilie fought, it was the physical embodiment of when an unstoppable force met an unmovable object. But Emilie had grown into her power during her banishment, and for a brief second, she could see the look in Oriannas eyes when she realized that going up against her daughter would result in her own death.
”Either given an official challenge, ” Emilie gritted out, by some miracle able to speak through the unnatural forces moving through her, ”or leave. That is the only way this ends. ”
Orianna held out for a few seconds longer before retracting her power. Emilie did the same and the suffocating pressure in the room dissipated, allowing everyone to breathe once again.
Orianna straightened her shoulders as if she had not been defeated in a battle of wills against her own blood. ”A portal will open to the Hinterlands tomorrow at noon. Do not be late. ” she said as if she were a queen giving commands to a lowly subject.
”I can make my own portal. ” Emilie shot back, keeping her eyes on her mother and ignoring the shocked expressions of her family at not only her display of power but at the idea that she was strong enough to perform magic such as making portals that usually required several witches to pool their magic together.
Orianna adjusted her suit blazer and walked out the door without bothering to look back. Maxime quickly followed behind her and soon, one by one, her aunts and uncles did the same.
Gaspard and Esther came to her and gave her warm, sincere hugs.
”I missed you, sis. ” Esther whispered with tears in her eyes.
Emilie tried to give her a reassuring smile. ”I missed you too. ” she said, holding her sister close before letting her go to give her brother a big hug.
”It hasn been the same without you. ” He sighed. Emilie chuckled and ruffled his hair. ”Im not moving back in or anything. I was serious when I said I cut ties. But, at least this means that I will be able to see you guys again in the future without risks. ”
At the door, Gaspard kissed her cheek and Esther gave her another hug. Chuckling, Emilie produced two unopened bottles of the Screaming Eagle and gave one to each of them. They laughed, causing more than one family member that was waiting for them to turn their heads in their direction and frown.
Bottles in hand, they turned and joined the rest of the family as Emilie shut the door. Emilie closed the door behind them. The house was empty no save for her, several opened bottles of wine, and her own turbulent emotions.
One tear fell and she tried to take a breath but choked on it and began to cry in earnest on her foyer floor.
Tomorrow she would prepare to return to the Hinterlands. Tonight though? Tonight, she would live with her sorrow and morn for the death of her older sister.
With effort, she made her way to her bedroom and crawled into bed without bothering to change her clothes. Turning out the lights, she wailed into her pillow, allowing all her pent-up sadness that shed restrained in front of her mother to escape.
Through the pain, she cried that she wished Philly had lived and mourned for all the decades she had lost bonding with her sister during her banishment. She remembered every time they were forced to fight each other, every time they patched each other up, and the jokes they had shared together.
Now memories, never to be seen again.
Philly was no fighter, but a natural healer. Shed told Emilie once as children that she wanted to go to the academy and become a master healer, even though they both knew that Orianna had already decided that Philly, as eldest, would be heir and needed to be a fighter. They laughed when Emilie proclaimed, brandishing a stick as her sword, that she would be a great warrior feared by everyone.
Philly had laughed and, in their youthful bliss, said that Emilie should have been heir and was better suited.
It was that day that Orianna had put them in the fighting ring and told them that the first one with a broken bone wasn getting together. Philly was probably ten to Emilies six, but this was not the first time Orianna had forced them to fight each other until incapacitated.
Philly had done an admirable job defending herself, but even at such a young age, she was no match for Emilies innate talent. After some back and forth fighting when Philly had positioned herself so that her back was to her mother, shed mouthed make it quick.
Even after breaking her sisters arm and leg, Emilie had still received little more than scraps.
She tried to bring what food shed gotten back to Phillys room as she lay in bed recovering from the painful healing magic, but Philly had just smiled at her and said, ”You eat it, Emma. You need to grow big. ”
Lost in her memories of her kind sister that died for her mothers greed, Emilie didn fall asleep until well past midnight.
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