Xelha didn't know what killed her mother, just that she was gone-had joined the others Somewhere, in the place where no one's heart beat to break the silence. She was forbidden to see the body, if there was one, and so she imagined what it might look like. She pictured the face, white and cold and made of ice, trapped in sleep, the hands clasped in prayer beneath it. Surely the gods had let her die as elegantly as the motionless face suggested, but the black stain of doubt spread in Xelha's mind as she grew older.
She knew she would die, and soon. She knew all about her destiny and the dark things it entailed. Her mother had faced it with the dignity of a true queen, but at least she had lived a full life. The girl within Xelha resented what awaited her, and she admitted that she was more girl than queen. The thought ate up her insides, blocked her throat with terror. How long before it happened? Tomorrow? As soon as she fell asleep? How would her face look to the people who buried her?
One night, Xelha awoke to find it leaning over her. It wore her clothes, hiding the rest of it from her. The way it moved as it pressed closer, forcing itself into her vision like a child grasping a worm, seemed rigid, unnatural, as if its muscles had already stiffened with death. And the face-
The white face, like ice, but stretched in horror-skin distended from the efforts of desperation as its life was dragged from it by a cruel promise. The eyes pale and fishlike and faintly gray from the rotting sockets beneath them.
When her friends woke to find her thrashing, she didn't dare tell them why.