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  Dedicated to all those who still dream of fairy tales . . .

  EXCERPTED FROM

  THE LIVING BOOK OF LORE . . .

  The Lore

  ". . . and those sentient creatures that are not human shall be united in one stratum, coexisting with, yet secret from, man's."

  * Most are immortal and can regenerate from injuries.

  * Their eyes change with intense emotion, often to a breed-specific color.

  The Demonarchies

  "The demons are as varied as the bands of man. . . ."

  * A collection of demon dynasties.

  * The hell demonarchy was the first of all demon kingdoms.

  Primordial

  "The mightiest of all immortals; filled with power, magics, and majesty."

  * The firstborn--or the oldest generation--of a species.

  The Morior

  "In the tongue of the Elserealms, Morior can mean both 'the Dozen' and 'Soul's Doom.' "

  * An alliance of otherworldly beings led by Orion the Undoing.

  * Have journeyed to our world for reasons unknown.

  The Noble Fey of Grimm Dominion

  "A warrior nobility who ruled over all the demon serfs in their realm."

  * Were called feodals, an ancient term for feudal overlords, which became shortened to fey.

  * Possess supernatural speed and cunning.

  * The Sylvan kingdom is ruled by King Saetthan, also known as Saetth.

  The Accession

  "And a time shall come to pass when all immortal beings in the Lore must fight and destroy each other."

  * A kind of mystical checks-and-balances system for an ever-growing population of immortals.

  * Three major alliances: the Pravus League, the Vertas Rule, and the Morior.

  * Occurs every five hundred years. Or right now . . .

  PROLOGUE

  Listen well to the storyteller, and you'll hear such a tale," Nix the Ever-Knowing said to her sister Regin as they sat before the fire in their temporary abode. "Once upon a time, two females entered an enchanted forest on opposite ends of the woods. One was a lovely and truehearted fairy princess, born an old soul, with perhaps a bit of a temper. The other was a temptress called the dame of fire, known to be sensual and devious, with perhaps a lack of mercy.

  "The princess was fleeing a baneblood archer who'd vowed to wipe out the entire fey royal line. The princess wanted only to live.

  "The dame was pursuing a cowardly ruler who'd jeopardized all of his people. The dame wanted only to kill.

  "During the princess's journey, she met a mysterious, gorgeous, shifty soothsaying Valkyrie who betrayed her. Next the princess met two sorceresses. They sent her on the adventure of a lifetime, down the rabbit hole to a strange new world, because they knew that not all bad is bad.

  "Lastly the princess met a king of beasts with two faces. He could keep her safe from the archer, but first the fairy princess would have to become the beast's bride.

  "On the opposite end of the woods, the dame of fire met an ancient and primal force that recognized and rewarded her bravery.

  "Next she encountered a wise dragon who admired her audacity, so he decided to grant her one wish.

  "Lastly she met a beautiful fairy king, who had offered her his hand in marriage. And everyone knows the best way to become a queen is to marry a king.

  "The dame and the princess would meet in the middle of the forest, clashing so violently that even hell trembled. Which one would emerge from the woods? Who would triumph before the clock tolled midnight? The storyteller's companion, one of her Valkyrie sisters, blinked in astonishment at such a tale, then said . . ."

  "Uh, Nix, I just asked if you wanted to go hunt some ghouls." Regin frowned at her sister, wondering how much nuttier the soothsayer could get. After the destruction of the Valkyries' home, her mind was declining even faster than before. "And why are you calling yourself 'the storyteller' and narrating our conversation?"

  Nix smiled vacantly. "The storyteller replied: 'Because I am telling a story. And besides, no ghouls were harmed during the making of this fairy tale.' "

  FITFO. Figure it the fuck out.

  --CALLIOPE "LILA" BARBOT

  PRINCESS OF THE SYLVAN FEY LINE

  My sire was the devil, and my dam was darkness embodied. I am a shadow that can follow you, even into the night.

  --ABYSSIAN "SIAN" INFERNAS

  KING OF PANDEMONIA AND ALL HELLS, MEMBER OF THE MORIOR (A.K.A. THE DEVIL'S OWN)

  ONE

  Sylvan Castle

  Eleven years ago . . .

  As King Saetth leisurely wiped blood off his sword, Lila choked down her fury.

  Seated upon his throne, he took his time, keeping everyone in suspense. With two executions complete, only one trial remained.

  Mine.

  Would she follow her parents' fates?

  Through one of the throne room's towering windows, a ray of sunlight beamed over the king. His blond locks and his ornate crown--a wreath of gilded evergreen branches--seemed to glow. Even the sun wanted to touch him.

  For all of her thirteen years, Lila had been just as enamored of him.

  Off to the side, whispers sounded from her backstabbing royal cousins.

  "Saetth's about to behead his child fiancee!"

  "The foulmouthed brat got used to being the king's favorite."

  "Why isn't the little bitch crying?"

  "Or begging for her cursed life?"

  Crying or begging? As if. Lila faced Saetth with her chin up and shoulders back, her pampered appearance belying her fortitude.

  The perils of this fey court had honed her mettle. Learning from the mistakes of others had sharpened her acumen.

  Yet nothing could stifle her unfeylike temper; after all, she'd been betrothed to Saetth since her birth, raised to become the queen of this realm. Rumor even held that she was a princess reincarnated.

  Fate wanted her to be a queen.

  Lila had worn a purple silk gown for this occasion; the color was royal--and defiant.

  As the castle's clock tower tolled, Saetth finished cleaning the weapon he always carried, the Ancestors' Sword, the unifying symbol of their royal line. He raised the blade to the sunlight, eyeing the edge with his piercing blue gaze.

  Her earliest memories were of sighing over his handsome face, imagining him as her husband and her dollies as the subjects they protected.

  Yet now her king suspected Lila of treason?

  How could her coldhearted parents have plotted against such a powerful ruler? They'd foolishly trusted an informer, leaving their only child's life hanging in the balance.

  Secrecy equals survival in this court.

  They'd never cared about her--never pretended she was more than a valuable bargaining chip--which was one of the reasons she'd bonded so strongly with Saetth, who'd at least shown her attention. . . .

  He sheathed his sword. Peering down at her, he began her trial with one question: "Why shouldn't I believe you were involved in your parents' plot to steal my crown?"

  Lila pinned his gaze with her own uncanny one. Her defense consisted of eight words: "Because it still sits upon your godsdamned head."

  Stunned silence reigned.

  Saetth's shock turned to amusement.