Yuberki held her breath as the as the door to the hidden passage out of the castle scraped closed. The sound echoed through the empty building with a grim finality. She let out a slow hiss of air to center herself. An unfamiliar press of dark energy radiated off the waiting army. It set her nerves on edge and sent her stomach into wild contortions.
“Pull yourself together,” she told herself, “You knew this was always a possibility.” The deadlings would not fall for the switch if she fainted into a pool of her own sick. No real princess would ever allow herself such fate.
“And that is why I’m here,” Yuberki muttered, her voice more bitter than she realized. “I am not a real princess.”
She was a Hand of the Dead charged with communing with and honoring the spirits of the untended dead. Those who no longer had someone to remember their time among the living. It was a dangerous and exhausting path, but their work prevented the birth of deadlings. The unfairness of it all swept over her and she wanted to weep. However, she was distracted by a massive shift in the dark energy.
Something was wrong.
Yuberki centered herself again, but before she could reach out, a noise caught her attention.
“Nooooo!” she whispered as the guttural cry of stone hinges protesting against magical seals reached her ears. Suddenly the door gave way, banging open so hard the walls shook.
The deadlings were already in the castle!
Yuberki threw her shoulders back and prepared to play the role of fragile young monarch. Her knees shook beneath the delicate skirt, but she hoped haughty look on her face was enough to distract the deadlings from the trap. It was a simple plan: lure the leaders of the deadlings to the castle to negotiate a surrender, then bind them in the structure with a blood sacrifice.
The deadlings came on silent foot to the second floor. They were not as frightful as reported. They appeared to be what they were: elderly people in outmoded clothes. The only distinguishing feature was the trembling aura of dark energy that slithered around each one.
Yuberki kept her guard up nonetheless. These were still ranks of the angry, forgotten dead. A male dressed in plush robes and an elaborate crown moved to stand before her.
“Greetings, young Priestess,” the creature spoke in the secret language of her sect. “There is no need to spill your blood. I have a much better idea.”