For the rest of her life, she would remember that night.
She would not remember it as she would the other blurred and indefinably distant memories of her early childhood, which were merely associations tinged with nostalgia. No, that particular night she would remember in full, startling detail.
It had not been completely dark, as it never was on her planet. Instead, midnight lay somewhere between a dark grey twilight and a deep indigo that tinged the world in a cold blanket of eerie stillness. In this light, the elegant and towering shapes of the Fountain Palace, atop its dark crag, were very much definable, the rich colours dim yet still obvious. In the indomitable sky above, so important to her people’s culture and history, lay the ever looming presence of her planet’s seven bright Moons. Beyond still, the bright shimmering of the nebulae of young stars of the Eternal Mists, sacred and ethereal, glowing with gases of pink and green and deep purple.
She would remember vividly, and with great aversion, the pungently sweet smell of Ta’rakh incense, which had wafted for hours within her bedroom that night, further punishment for a day of purgatory. It was for loathing of that very overwhelming smell that she had risen from her small bed to open the hatch on the window in the first place.
Four years old, pensive and quiet in nature, Vaxa had been second in line to her Aunt’s throne. For centuries now, ever since the male line had been all but eradicated, the planet had been ruled by a legacy exclusively of women, who had vowed to never again let their fates fall into masculine control as it had been before the War.
Before Vaxa’s birth, that vow’s future had been terribly uncertain. Her Aunt, the Queen, had one son. Her Uncle two. And her mother, their younger sister, had three. Then, as though by divine miracle, Vaxa was born. For years afterwards she would hear it said that the night of her birth was darker than any that could be remembered, that for the first time in innumerable years some had felt the Coldness.
As a baby, she had been still and silent. In the four succeeding years, she had grown no different, but had become precocious and thoughtfully sharp. A small but beautiful girl, much to the pleasure of her family, she ate little and dreamed large, her thoughts so vivid and ephemeral that she often found difficulty in resting, instead finding her peace in the objects surrounding her, to which she felt strangely connected, a jolt of energy passing between her fingertips and everything she touched.
Despite her many qualities, and despite her many oddities, there was one aspect of her character that she found to be particularly insatiable: her desire to explore, to feel, to touch. Awake at night, restless as ever in her bed, she would look out of the large window and dream of the many worlds of fable, war and colour that lay beyond the beautiful wisps of the Eternal Mists. Even at four years old Vaxa knew, as everyone did, that there had been persistent, terrible war in those very worlds for years now, perhaps even generations. To her people, reclusive and proud, wise of old mistakes, it was a terrifying prospect. As of yet, they remained undisturbed by the blight of war, and most of the time seemed a universe away from the fighting. They must have known that their peace would not last forever.
But to Vaxa, none of that mattered; wars, fear, suffering. Surely, to her innocent mind devoid of experience, there were places other than this planet that she could someday visit, even if the war was eternal. Surely she wasn’t to be confined to this planet her entire life, as the Queen had told her. The truth was, however, that she didn’t at that time understand the full responsibility that her much-anticipated birth had bound her to. She was the heir, the only heir, of one of the most mysterious yet respected systems known in the galaxy. To this system’s people – her people – Vaxa’s was a duty more important than anyone’s. This is what her Aunt had explained to her that very day, as the heat of the midday sun bore down upon her shoulders, coaxing out the deep red from her otherwise near-black hair. And when Vaxa, resentful of her birthright, thinking as all children do that nothing in life is set in stone, had protested, her Aunt had replied coolly, ‘None of us get the kindness of choosing what life we are born to, Vaxa. But as the mists above us loom, you shall be Queen.’