V.

“You are such a child,” She said to the despondent girl before her. Lyra never really imagined she would ever fall as low as to speak to a mirror; yet here she was, sitting before a glass, not with vanity but hope to find the gall that she never has.

She diverted from meeting those fierce eyes to focus on her features…She relieved herself of the disguise now that the day’s almost ended, and yet…even without the disguise she was a mold of the Emperor, only differentiated from her father by delicacy owed solely to femininity and a nose leaning more towards her mother’s side.

She remembered that she was supposed to meet Horatio hours before…probably just to make sure Lord Claud did not seriously hurt her. But, she thought herself unworthy of the attention. Oh Horatio, whose first arrival to the Empire along side her mother, his sister, marked the beginning of his steady climb up the Emperor’s trust and consequent power.

A crack from the window snapped her away from her reflections, reminding her of the howling wind outside with its minions of leaves and branches brushing against glass. She got up, tugging the thick curtains closed to block out the annoying rays of a setting sun.

Before she even turned around a force knocked the air out of her lungs, a cold shiver pressed against her neck while her hands were bounded by a firm grasp.

She couldn’t catch her breath to scream, so she looked up at her assailant: sharp eyes, delicate features, and…not a cape, but a pair of midnight wings whose tips barely brushed the marble floors.

Then the sharp ache of a shallow cut at her neck nearly deafened her from the assassin’s voice, “Where is the Emperor?”

Thank God that she was no longer wearing her disguise, “I…I don’t know,” Her wits and spells had fled her.

“Who are you to him?” So he could sense the similarities between her and the Emperor…her father…the pressure upon her throat had lessened though she was still paralyzed by fear.

Before she could speak, the doors burst opened to introduce the elite guards. “Your Highness!” Still, she was trapped, the sharp edge against her throat, “A foul move, and she dies.”

The quiet only lived for a split second. Lyra watched with dread as a thought crossed the men’s minds uniformly: they looked from her to the intruder. The Princess. The assassin. No, not just any rogue rebel for they saw the midnight wings, too.

The Angel of Death.

The fame. The reward. False confidence.

To her surprise, the assassin scoffed and whispered to her ear, “Last chance, who are you?”

“Does…it matter if you are going to kill me anyway?”

“I am not going to kill an innocent. Just tell me.”

Panic made her honest, “I’m Lyra, daughter of… Sapphira of Etzion and Luctus of none.”

“Ha, perhaps we are in the same opinion about a certain individual.”

The guards’ array of spells were made pathetic by the assassin, who trusted her enough to let go of her hands, reached out a hand and nullified the attack with an invisible fortress formed just before the breadth of his palm.

Lyra didn’t understand why he had placed her out of harm’s way, tugging her to his side and brushing the battalion aside with his outstretched hand instead.

Could he be naive enough to trust her?

Still, a voice within her head resonated with the soldiers. If I am to kill this man, I would be greater than any men.

“Lyra!”

Looking up, she saw Horatio flanked by Athlem the court physician and armed with somber rage. “Villain, identify yourself.”

The assassin responded flatly, “I am Aldebaran Xacur of the rebellion. And, you are?”

“Horatio of Etzion.”

“Where is your Lord?”

Aldebaran had just enough time to draw his sword away from Lyra’s neck to parry a stab, heavy and fast enough to pierce the forcefield and draw sparks. How could a human deliver such an attack? Aldebaran allowed a split second of doubt before he repelled Horatio with sheer force.

Still, it was enough distraction for Lyra to remember the dagger hidden in her undershirt…seized it, and twisted about just enough to turn and bury the blade into the assassin’s flesh.

He gasped, shoving her aside and springing back to the window from which he came, realizing too late the depth and venom of the cut as he wrenched the dagger free from his side.

He looked up, pained by disappointment, “Does your actions run as haphazardly desynchronized from your mind as your soldiers from your orders?”

She marveled at the dark stain blossoming on his side, but before she could think of anything, the Nokshan reduced the windows into a shower of glass. He barely deflected another stab before diving off the balcony and into darkness.

“Give chase, traitors, lest you have a death wish,” Horatio’s calm command awakening the remaining soldiers. Athlem didn’t need a cue to tend to the Princess’s minor injuries.

As the men thundered out, Horatio inspected his blade and discovered a fresh dent with an air of solemnity that clouded his usual warmth and concerns for the Princess.

“Horatio…?” Lyra swatted the physician’s hand away and made her way to her advisor.

The clouds cleared, “Oh child, are you harmed?”

“I’m fine…”

“Ath, is she lying?”

“No, it’s just a minor cut–”

“–When have I ever lied to you? Where on earth are you going now?”

She hated the way he turned around with his slight smile, his brow arched as he replied, “Where else, but to clip a pair of wayward wings?”

“But…”

“Please just stay here. I will take care of him.”

She was too mad at Horatio to bicker. While he left without a sound she stared at her hands, the dark petals of scarlet the withered remains of an ugly flower she never wanted to paint.

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