Lilith rested on her plush chaise lounge, her anger assuaged, her energy spent. After Daeva left her, she'd ransacked her room. She glanced at the mess that Adele would have to clean.
Her tantrum left a brass hand mirror shattered, shards of glass scattered about, some ground to a dangerous dust. A broken tea service spilled into an open drawer, staining the silk scarves within. Feathers floated, landing on the bedding, the dresser top, the array of shoes, the hats, the carafe of wine, then were set to flying again with each movement to the air.
Perfume bottles splattered across the floor emitted the ghastly, overpowering smell of spices, flowers, and citrus. It was so strong it left a bitter, soapy taste in the mouth. Funny, she mused, how easily she could fool people into believing that whatever scent she wore was authentic confirmation of her having found Ehyeh's favor.
Rowena had done it again. She was always the favored, always a step ahead, always the seventh. Ever since she was born, she'd usurped all that should have been Lilith's own.
The youngest of six for some time, everyone believed Lilith was to become the leader of the first family. Her training would soon begin. Then to everyone's surprise, Mae became pregnant with her seventh, long after others believed it was still possible. She bore Rowena—the accident—the seventh.
"Come girls, look at the new baby!" Max had exclaimed.
Lilith could still recall every sight and smell of that day. Her mother lay exhausted after a difficult childbirth. Her chestnut hair, now sprinkled with gray, lay in tangles, her skin a ghostly pallor. A nursemaid wiped sweat from her brow. The attending physician had been concerned he might not be able to save both mother and child; the infant was breech and the mother stressed. But at the last minute, the infant turned. Both would survive after all.
"I don't want to see her," eight-year-old Lilith said as the others wrestled one another to hold and to coddle the infant, swooning ridiculously over her scent. It made her want to retch.
Her father turned to her. "Surely, you don't mean that. Come, meet your little sister. Just think, now you needn't worry about all of the responsibilities of being the youngest. All you need to do is help your sister to be the best leader possible."
"I don't want to help her. I want to be the youngest. I want to be the leader."
"Oh, you'll change your mind when you see how hard things will be for Rowena," her mother whispered. "Take it from me, it's difficult to lead the family."
Were they all stupid? What was so difficult? There were servants to take care of problems, people to order about. Lilith looked from one parent to the other, sneering. "I don't want to see her."
"Max," her mother said, "bring her to me."
Lilith's father approached. He reached for her hand.
She pulled hers away.
"Come," he said. This was no longer a request; it was a demand.
In that moment, she knew all had changed, and she vowed she'd do anything to turn things back to the way they'd been. She would lead the first family and no one, not even that screaming, smelly infant would change that fact.
Max guided Lilith toward the newborn. She squirmed under his touch. She looked at her sister, all pink and . . . pretty.
Her mother stroked the infant's cheek. "Isn't she pretty? And smell. It is the smell of Paradise. You smelled very like this yourself once, and you will again when you come of age and find favor with the Good One."
Lilith said nothing. She hated Rowena. She would always hate her.
By the time Rowena turned four, everyone was eating out of her hand. "Oh, look what a beautiful girl she is!" "Oh, see how quick she is to learn!" "Oh, what a great leader she'll make one day!" Everywhere Lilith turned, Rowena was the center of attention.
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An Oath Sworn. A Struggle Engaged. A Sacrifice Required. When Mara, a trained Oathtaker, is drawn by the scent of the Select to battle underworld beasts summoned by powers of evil to destroy the guardians of life, she swears a life oath for the prot...