RESTART - A Steampunk Adventure

*AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a rewrite mostly by Skellybones (Shadowwolf), it will be updated as and when I have the time to work on it, but that should be more regularly than it has been the past few years.*

In the year 1814, The Empress, Maria Vasquez's, Senior Inventor, Kole Tasker, turned corrupt and fled from London. As he did so, he destroyed their security systems, leaving the ever-growing city undefended.
It is now 1856, and news has reached the Empress's ears that Kole is planning to destroy London, and use it as base for his latest invention, an inter-dimensional jumper.
Maria's daughter, Ariannya, or Anya, has been picked to find Kole and stop his plans. She is reluctant, preferring her aristocratic lifestyle.
Will Anya live to take her claim on the throne, or will she and London both go up in steam?

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3. The Twenty First Imperial Hunter

(It will be updated more regularly, she said *four months later*)

 

Anya’s heart skipped a beat, and she started to feel numb. Everything went quiet- both inside and outside her head. The crowds went silent, without even a murmur. Her breathing quickened ever so slightly, and the glass view box suddenly felt far too small. Beside her, Maria had gone pale.

Anya hadn’t put her name in.

In the silence, time seemed to slow. She felt as though she were in a nightmare, one in which everything moved as fast as a hand through treacle. Heads turned in slow motion towards them, and a sea of faces replaced the crowds below. All eyes were on her; on Ariannya Vasquez, Princess Imperial to the British Empire, daughter of the Empress, Maria Vasquez the First.

A lump rose in her throat, and she looked down upon them. They were all waiting. Waiting, and watching. She couldn’t refuse. Nobody in the twenty raffles before had refused the task, had stepped down. Anya wasn’t even sure you could- although, being the Princess Imperial was most likely the best reason any had to step down. But she couldn’t. All of those before had gone through. Who was she to deny the call to aid her city? Her country? 
She clenched her fists, nails digging into the palms of her hands. She stood, pushing herself from her throne and standing before the microphone. Her name had been picked. She couldn’t refuse. With a shaking voice, she answered.

“I accept.”

Immediately there was a roar of voices as the people below started talking once more. People spoke with stunned excitement, calling out to one another. Even the guards whispered amongst themselves, momentarily breaking their silence. Antonie stood still on the stage, the piece of paper that had started it all held in ghostly white fingers. Anya could see him looking toward the view box, too surprised to even attempt to reign the crowd in.

As the crowd calmed a little, the Imperial Communications Manager seemed to find his voice, opening his mouth and stuttering the words- “T-The Twenty First Imperial Hunter h-has been named.”

Anya stumbled back from the microphone, staring at space. Maria was frozen, half-standing, as though to stop Anya from going any further. The Empress was as white as a sheet, her face one of grief and sorrow. It was she who was first to move, coming back to her senses and closing the short gap between the pair, enclosing her daughter in a tight embrace. Anya leaned into her mother, burying her face into her shoulder. They stood there for a while in silence, while cheering broke out amongst the crowds.

 

The Imperial family did not stay for the rest of the ceremony. Soon after the announcement had been made, Maria had decided that was enough. She guided her daughter toward the elevator, eerily quiet. The guards followed them, and they descended. Everything was a blur to Anya, the initial shock passing and time began to whirl past.
It was only when the reached the carriage that everything seemed to go back to normal. They were back in the place where she was last herself, the last place she had been nothing but the Princess Imperial, the pretty little girl who accompanied the Empress, of no importance until her Ascension.

She watched as the Atrium slid past, accompanied by the rhythmic steps of the horses and the quiet clatter of the carriage wheels on stone. Fireworks still blazed above its glass roof, scattering the sky with vibrant colours. They had started late this particular year- the initial shock had delayed their release, and so they still lit the night as the building grew smaller in the window. It disappeared around a corner, replaced with the red brick houses that lined London’s streets.

“What foolish desire for adventure possessed you in that moment, Ariannya?” Maria’s voice was quiet, solemn. Anya’s mother gazed out of the window, watching the same buildings as her daughter.

Anya’s hands tightened in her lap, her knuckles going white as she clutched bunches of the bronze dress. Her mother rarely addressed her using her full name, saving it for when she spoke of her daughter in public, or for when she was speaking solemnly. The name, Anya knew, was a painful reminder of her father.

When she received no answer, the Empress’ eyes moved to Anya, the deep grey streaked with black. The Princess Imperial struggled to meet the gaze, struggling to look deeply into her mothers eyes. Maria had many years of practise in hiding her emotions, able to hold an even tone in the worst of crises. She could mask joy or sorrow or laughter or anger- but, Anya had learnt, she could not hide grief. Behind her mother’s level expression Anya could see it. It pricked at the corners of her eyes, added a new layer to her voice that trembled with every word. It made the Empress look older, her hair seeming to lighten a shade. Anya couldn’t hold her gaze long, instead looking down at her hands.

“What came over you?” she asked again.

Anya shook her head softly, feeling the sting of tears in her own eyes. Before her mother could ask a third time, she spoke. “I cannot stand idly by while our own people suffer,” she whispered. “I cannot stand while he- while Kole gets away with this.” Maria opened her mouth to speak, but Anya continued before she managed to get a word out. “For forty two years he’s tormented us, sending spies and machines to the City’s outer reaches, stirring unrest in our citizens. He’s eluded us for just as long, always one step ahead. Twenty other people have ventured out- in addition to some of our best trained soldiers, bounty hunters, and other citizens who wanted to try their hand. What right do I have to forfeit?”

Maria’s eyes hardened, and the carriage went over a dip in the road. “You are Princess Imperial,” she said calmly. “You have a place far more important than out there, searching for the traitor. What would our people do when-” Her voice caught on the word, her expression flickering for a moment, “-if you don’t return?” she corrected. “Losing another integral part of the empire could be too much for our people, there would be more unrest, more suffering.” Her mother did not raise her voice, and in some ways that was worse than shouting. Anya knew that she wasn’t just talking about the Arcane Rune- the people had lost the Emperor, her father and the Empress’s husband, only a few years ago.

The carriage rattled to a halt, and Maria gave Anya a look that told her that this conversation had not finished. The Princess Imperial continued to look at her hands, still holding onto the bronze dress she wore as though her life depended on it. The footman opened the door with a flourish, and the Empress stepped out gracefully, her own dress swaying behind her. Anya waited a moment before following, ensuring that she had full composure of herself. The press would be waiting like hounds for dinner outside, and if they caught so much as a stutter from her Anya knew she would be in even deeper trouble.

She took a deep breath, before disembarking the carriage.

Anya followed her mother through the palace’s front doors, head bowed as they moved through the entrance hall. The marble pillars rose either side of them, corridors snaking off into the further reaches of the building. The palace staff hurried around, already given preparations following the news from the Raffle. The bulk of the Empress’s armed escort had split from their party, taking the first corridor to the left as they entered. Anya glanced back, watching the red-clad soldiers march through into the less ornate passageway to the guardhouses. She turned back to face forward, straightening her back as her mother led her through the palace.

They came to a halt by the secondary parlour, a maid hurrying to open the doors, before they entered. Maria took the seat closest to the heavily curtained windows, her favourite of all the chairs in the palace. The remaining guards positioned themselves outside the room’s entrances, and shut the door behind Anya as she stepped inside.

She stood by that door for a while, unable to make eye contact with her mother.

The Empress sat neatly in her chair, her hands folded demurely in her lap, cradled by the silk of the gown she wore. The Empress was watching the curtains with interest, admiring the embroidered gold patterns, accentuated with deep blue. They matched the dark fabric of the armchair’s cushions. Anya’s hair was a blazing fire amidst the cool shades of the room. She shifted uncomfortably, painfully aware of a wire from her corset poking into her side.
Maria sighed, relaxing her position considerably. Her shoulders lowered, hands instead taking their places on the armrests of the chair. She returned her gaze to Anya, once more regarding her with a mixture of anger and worry. “Sit,” she said, gesturing toward the armchair across from her.

Anya hesitated for a moment, before she sat, cradling her hands in one another. She kept her gaze low, watching how the light shimmered off of her mother’s dress.

Neither spoke for a further minute. The sound of marching soldiers could be heard outside as the Imperial Guard made their half-hourly round.

It was Anya who broken the silence, finally able to find her voice again. “I have to go, mother. It’s my duty.”

“Your only duty is to your people, here, in London,” her mother answered, she was shaking her head softly. “Oh Anya, why did you put your name in?”

She didn’t answer immediately. When she did, she spoke with barely a whisper. “I didn’t.”

Maria stared at her for a few moments, speechless. Her eyes softened for a brief second, before flickering back to anger, to an emotion akin to outrage. “Then this is hardly the time to heading off on a journey, exiled from the capital, in search of danger.” She spoke swiftly, her words sharp. “Anya, your name shouldn’t have been in there, there is no obligation or duty holding you to-”

The Empress stopped, pursing her lips. Anya had stood from where she sat, her posture excellent, and was looking directly into her mother’s eyes. Flames burned behind her dark brown eyes, her own anger starting to seep in. “You’re wrong. I have every obligation to fulfil my promise. I accepted the summons, I said yes. I will not be a princess who sits in her palace all day, combing her hair and wiping away tears for every citizen who ventures out to do the Empire a service.” She halted for breath, allowing the weight of her words a moment’s pause. When she opened her mouth to speak again, Maria raised a hand for silence. Anya’s mouth snapped shut as the Empress stood, rising gracefully from her seat.

“I forbid it.”

Her heart sunk at those three words, her passion faltering. Anya looked up slightly at her mother, shorter by no more than two inches. Silence fell upon the pair again, the Empress’s expression calm, while Anya’s shifted. “I’ll still go,” she said eventually, feeling the fire building in her again. Maria’s eyes narrowed, but the Empress remained quiet.

Anya straightened up, before she turned on her heel and went to leave the room. She paused for a moment at the door, waiting for her mother’s anger-streaked voice to order her to sit back down.

It didn’t come.

The Princess Imperial opened the door, strode through, and let them shut behind her. She kept walking, paying the guards standing either side no attention, and continuing back into the entrance hall.

 

Anya lay on her bed, staring up at the canopy. Intricate patterns had been carved into the wood, swirls and shapes that melded into one another, each ridge catching the orange glow that seeped in through the lace curtains, each dip trapping dark shadows. She needed to leave the palace, and she needed to do it soon. Anya turned onto her side, looking toward the large window that took up a big portion of one of her walls. The city was a smudge through the glass, colours blending together in the light of the lamps that lined the streets.

She’d been laying there for only a few minutes, her mind racing as she tried to figure out what she was going to do. Her insides squirmed at the thought of leaving. She’d never been out of the palace alone. There had always been a maid or a guard following her, watching out for her safety. Anya hadn’t ever needed to fend for herself, and she’d been forbidden from entering some of the darker reaches of London, where monsters were said to lurk. She pushed the feeling of unease down, finally sitting up. Her mother would be ordering the guards to watch her, to make sure she didn’t leave the palace. There wasn’t much time.

The Princess stood up, springing from the bed and heading toward the dresser that stood in the corner of the room. It was pale against the dark wood panelling, its own timber painted in white. She took ahold of one of the brass handles, quietly sliding the drawer open. It was in this dresser that she kept some of her simpler, more comfortable clothing. The plain shirts and skirts that she wore when she did not have any public appearances. Unlike her mother, Anya could get away without wearing a dress. Being the Princess Imperial came with some perks at least, she thought with a smile.

The smile quickly faded as she reminded herself she wasn’t going to keep her status for long. No, it would be a title she would have to earn back. Provided she survive the ordeal.

Anya shook her head to clear the thoughts away, returning her attention to the clothes before her. She needed to pack light- too much and she wouldn’t be able to carry it all from the palace without anyone noticing. She just needed a spare change or two, enough to get by with until she could find some more suitable clothes. Clothes that would help her blend in.

She pulled out a white shirt, the plainest she had, and threw it onto the bed. Most of her shirts, despite being considerably more casual than her formal wear, still showed obvious signs of opulence and wealth.

In the end she only found a couple that she deemed suitable. She changed quickly, discarding the bronze garment she had previously wearing, leaving it on the red armchair. She paused to look at herself in the mirror, adjusting bits of cloth until she was satisfied. She would still stick out like a sore thumb amongst the crowds of London, but at least now she might not be instantly recognisable.

Anya turned back to the centre of the room, and took a deep breath. She would need money. That much was obvious. If she was going to be travelling- which she undoubtedly would- she needed something with which to pay for a ride or vehicle. She would need a considerable amount, something that would last her-

There was a soft knock at the door, followed by the quiet creak of its hinges. Anya’s thoughts stopped in their tracks, and she turned towards it.

Eliza stood in the doorway, holding a silver tray laden with a plate of food and cutlery in her hands. She smiled softly at the sight of Anya, and hurried into a curtsy.

“My lady,” she said as she straightened, “The Empress instructed me to bring your dinner to you here, and to inform you that…” The girl trailed off as her eyes fell on the pile of clothes piled on Anya’s bed. A frown creased her brow, and she looked back at Anya.

Anya could feel her cheeks reddening, and hurriedly turned away, drawing herself to her full height. “You are not to tell my mother anything you see here,” she said quickly, taking a few steps toward the bed and starting to gather the clothes into more even piles, smoothing out creases and folding them. “Not a word, Eliza.”

She heard the sound of the tray being carefully placed on the small table beside the door, and then the quiet click of the door closing. “Let me help you, my lady.” Eliza said after a few moments of silence. “At least let me pack for you.”

Her words caught Anya by surprise, and the Princess Imperial turned back to face her servant. “I cannot ask that of you, my mother- the Empress- has forbidden my departure. I could not put you-”

Eliza shook her head, smiling softly. Wisps of dark hair fluttered around her face with the movement, freed from the confines of the scarf she wore. “You are not asking, I am insisting.” Without another word, Eliza moved past, retrieving the bronze dress from the floor and draping it over the screen beside the dresser, before she turned back to the bed and continued where Anya had left off. Her folds were much neater than Anya’s, the clothing compressing smaller than she had ever been able to get it.

Anya stood dumbstruck for a minute or so, watching the girl as she gracefully twisted the clothes together, creating a single neat pile half the size of the one Anya had been making. “The Empress will-”

“I serve you, my lady.” Eliza interrupted, looking up from her work and smiling again.

Anya shut her mouth, instead giving a long sigh, and walked toward her window. “I need a way to leave the palace,” she said eventually, placing one hand on the cold glass. Down below the patrol was marching past, the tips of their bayonets glinting gold in the streetlights. “As I said, my mother forbade my departure, she would not let me go on such a ‘dangerous’ or ‘unladylike’ endeavour.”

The serving girl transfered the pile of clothes to the top of the dresser, and turned back to face Anya, her hands clasped behind her back. “We can disguise you as a servant, my lady, take you with us as we leave the palace,” she said, “If you’re alright with that, my lady,” she added hastily, lowering her eyes.

Anya nodded. “I will be Princess Imperial no longer. I must blend in with the rest of the world.” She moved away from the window, drifting toward the silver tray and picking up the piece of bread from the side of the plate. The pair of them stood in silence for a while, watching an airship drift across the city skyline as Anya ate. “Would you help me get out of my room? I need to reach the kitchens.” She asked eventually, finishing off the last bite of the piece of bread. “If my mother had you bring my dinner up here then I can only assume she does not wish for me to leave my room?”

Eliza nodded. “Yes, my lady. There are guards outside- I will think of something to distract them.”

Anya smiled, gently wiping the crumbs from her face with a napkin, before she moved toward her bedside table. She paused as she reached it, her hand resting on the handle. Eliza stood by the door, ready to head out at any moment. “Eliza?”

The girl looked up at her, “Yes, my lady?”

“Thank you.”

The girl’s eyes lit up, and she smiled again. “It is my pleasure, my lady. I will see you in the kitchens.” She opened the door, slipping out into the corridor.

 

 

Anya waited a few more moments, listening intently as she heard muffled voices from outside, before she returned her attention to the cabinet, which was now open before her. She drew out a small dagger, encased in a silver sheath engraved with flowers and leaves; a hefty pouch, filled to the brim with gold sovereigns; and a worn leather bag, the leather cracking in some places.

She hurriedly dropped the pouch into the bottom, and looped the dagger onto the waistband of the stockings she wore beneath her skirt, then moved toward the dresser to retrieve the clothes. The voices outside were getting quieter as Eliza led the guards away from her door. With the last shirt, she slung the bag onto her shoulder and made for the door. She twisted the brass handle as slowly as she could, trying to dampen the sound of the mechanisms as she opened the door. Anya peered out of her room, glancing either way before she stepped into the corridor, and shut the door soundlessly behind her.

She was out of her room. That was step one. She turned to the right- the opposite way to the voices, walking fast over the carpeted floor. There was an entrance to the servants passages nearby. Anya had spent many an hour following the winding corridors all around the palace when she was younger, discovering every nook and cranny she could, listening in on many conversations that would have been best left unheard. It took her a moment to find the lever that opened the panelling again- it had been a few years since her last adventure- and slid into the narrow passageway. She tapped the button on the other side as she passed, not waiting for the door to slide shut behind her before she started moving.

The memories came flooding back to her as she moved through the dark space, her mental map of the tunnels returning to her as she picked turn after turn, moving through the spaces hidden behind the walls of the palace. Under normal circumstances, she would have taken a source of light with her- a candle, a lamp, anything to stave away the darkness. However in the situation she was right now, she couldn’t risk slowing herself to watch after a flame. There was only a small window during the evening meal when all of the servants gathered around the dining rooms of the palace. It was only at this time that Anya could be sure that most of these corridors would be empty, devoid of life, clear for her to dart through. She wasn’t sure if many of the other servants would be willing to aid her if it meant going against the Empress. She didn’t blame them- this was their livelihood. They needed these jobs.

 

It was a while before she reached the final stone staircase that wound into the kitchen. Unlike the entrance in her room, she didn’t need to open the door. Guests weren’t expected to venture into the kitchens, and so the unsightly corridor didn’t need to be hidden. She stepped down onto the cold slabs of the kitchen, landing with a slight thump. The final step was almost twice the height of the others in the staircase, and she often forgot it was. She stumbled a little, and steadied herself on the table just outside the entrance. Her bag swung slightly on her shoulder.

Anya glanced around the room quickly, double checking that none of the rest of the palace staff were present. She’d managed to come at the later time when the final part of the evening meal was being served- when all of the cooks had finished their work of the day, and the servants were busy serving the meals. She let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding, and readjusted the strap on her shoulder. It wouldn’t be too long until the servants would return with the dishes and cutlery to clean them.

There was movement from the other side of the kitchen, the sound of footsteps from the corridor beyond the normal entrance to the room. Anya immediately ducked down, crawling beneath the nearest table as whoever it was drew closer. She kept going until she reached the wall, and twisted around just in time to see the door swinging open from her new vantage point. A pair of feet appeared, the boots scuffed and worn. Anya swallowed, pressing herself closer to the bags of flour piled underneath the table, trying to blend in as much as possible. Thankfully much of the kitchen was dominated by tables or counters, with the occasional crate or trolley. One could only see underneath the tables if they made a particular effort to do so, bending down and looking.

The man- for Anya knew it to be one of the servants from the bottom of his trousers and soft suede he wore- paused before one of the tables, and she heard the chink of the china plates as they were set down on the tables. She held her breath as the man did a quick once-over of the room, walking between some of the tables to make sure everything was as he had left it- Anya realised this must be Konnor Spurling- Head chef. He oversaw the palace’s meal preparation, and was never fond of Anya’s roaming as a child. She would often find herself in the kitchen, crawling beneath tables or running past the other chefs as they worked. He’d warmed to her ever so slightly over the years, but the man was still one of Anya’s least favourite staff.

After a few minutes he evidently decided everything was satisfactory, and turned to leave. He opened the door, and a second set of legs became visible- these ones mostly hidden by a thick crimson underskirt. Eliza had just entered the room, ready to meet her. Konnor stopped where he was standing, and Anya could see Eliza taking a step back in surprise.

A moment later, and the Chef spoke. “Ms. Tanase,” he said, his voice gruff, tone informal. Anya realised she’d never heard him speaking without his usual verbal flourishes. The Chef made a point to enunciate every word perfectly in front of any member of the Imperial family. Anya realised this did not carry over to the other servants. “You’ve already retrieved the young Princess’ dinner.”

She could hear Eliza hesitate, and the girl shifted her weight on her feet. “Lady Anya asked for some water, I just came down here to fetch some for her.”

Spurling sounded sceptical. “The Princess never asks for a drink with her meal, she usually-”

“-Refuses,” Eliza finished, interrupting the chef, “That is correct, but she asked me to retrieve some for her tonight.” Spurling didn’t speak, and they stood there for a moment longer.

Eventually he stepped to the side. “So be it,” he grumbled, as Eliza swept past him. “I must return to the dining room- please don’t move anything else while you’re here.”

Eliza’s dress brushed the floor as she curtsied. “But of course not, Chef Spurling.”

He hesitated for another moment, before he turned and left the room, letting the door shut on its own. Anya heard Eliza sighing with relief as his footsteps faded down the corridor

Anya crawled out from the table, pulling the bag out after her and replacing it on her shoulder. Eliza turned toward her, her expression nervous.

“My lady, we must move quickly. The evening meal has almost finished, and the staff shall return soon.”

Anya nodded, glancing around. “I must find some food to take with me, something for the next few days. I will undoubtedly need all of the money I can find for preparations, I cannot afford to waste even a penny on food.”

 

They had returned to the tunnels swiftly, after Eliza had helped Anya find suitable provisions for at least the next few days. Eliza guided the Princess through corridors, moving quickly and without hesitation. They were headed to the servant’s quarters in the Palace’s eastern wing.

Anya hurried down a set of crooked wooden stairs, each one groaning as the pair of them descended. In front of her Eliza stopped, and she very nearly ran straight into the serving girl, only managing to catch herself an inch from her back. A door clicked open, and torchlight flooded into the passageway. Eliza stepped through, and Anya followed.

The floor was the same stone as the kitchens, cold and grey. Stone supports were embedded at regular intervals along the walls either side, and the ceiling was arched to support the floor above. Oil lamps hung from it, illuminating a fairly long corridor perhaps twice the width of the passage they had just left. Doors lined the walls, with a couple of chairs and tables scattered in the small space. On one of them sat a squat vase of purple flowers, bringing much-needed colour to the room. At the end of the corridor was an archway that spanned its width, and in the room beyond Anya could see the fireplace and a few more chairs.

She hadn’t been to the servant’s quarters very much, mostly sticking to the parts of the palace she frequently used and lived in- her bedroom was in the west wing. Eliza led her to one of the doors, pausing for a moment to dig out a key that had been buried in the front pocket of her apron, and opened it.

Anya knew it to be Eliza’s room- smaller than some of the other servant’s rooms, but with only a single bed. Many of the more permanent palace staff lived in these quarters, doubled up in rooms. Eliza, being Anya’s personal maid, got the luxury of her own room. The walls were covered in pale blue wallpaper, and a multicoloured patchwork rug covered the majority of the stone floor. Near the top of the far wall was a small window, beneath which was a metal-framed bed. The only other piece of furniture in the room was a cramped dresser, its top crowded with an assortment of objects ranging from ornaments to loose change. It was the dresser that Eliza went to, opening the third draw from the bottom and carefully moving around the clothes inside.

“You will need to wear these in order to blend in with the other servants when you leave,” she said hurriedly as she turned back to Anya. In her arms was a servant’s dress, much like the one Eliza wore right now. She held it out toward Anya, who took it hesitantly.

“Don’t you need this?” She asked, looking down at the bundle of fabric.

Eliza shook her head, opening the next draw down and picking out a crimson underskirt. She held it up in front of her, glancing between the skirt and Anya, before she put it back in and found another. “I have plenty of others, I can only hope it will fit you.” She put the new underskirt on top of the dress she had given Anya, before she moved past her and retrieved an apron from behind the door. “The guards will not look to your shoes, but you will need a bonnet.”

“Where can we find one?” Anya turned back around as Eliza placed the apron in her arms, and followed as the serving girl left the room again, gesturing for Anya to follow.

She led her to the room at the end of the corridor- the common room- and went into the small room that led from it. Inside was a collection of different clothing, at least one of every single item worn as the servants’ uniform. Eliza pulled out one of the bonnets, and placed it atop Anya’s pile of clothes with a flourish. The pair of them returned to Eliza’s room. “Will you need my assistance changing, my lady?”

 

Anya insisted that she would be fine, and Eliza left the room to wait outside and discourage any of the other residents from entering the corridor. Anya put her bag down on Eliza’s bed, and started to undress. She removed the trousers and blouse she had been wearing, and pulled on the underskirt and dress of the servants uniform. The material was thick and hardy, the dark fabric felt scratchy compared to her usual garb. She adjusted it around her shoulders, trying to get it to sit comfortably. When it didn’t, she decided to leave it, and pulled the apron over her head. 

At last she tied the bonnet’s string beneath her chin, her hair hidden beneath the white cloth, and opened the door. “How do I look?” She asked, twirling before Eliza.

The girl smiled, gesturing for Anya to follow her again. “Perfect, my lady. The guards will not notice you.”

With that, the pair of them left the servant’s quarters, returning to the passages behind the walls and heading toward the back of the palace. It was getting late, and it was around the time at which the palace’s day staff headed home.

 

It didn’t take long for them to find their way up to the palace’s back doors, which were considerably less ornate and decorated than the front entrance. The back doors were open, and through them went a trickle of the palace staff. Either side of the doors stood two mens, dressed in the red uniform of the palace guard. Eliza stopped Anya before she left the passage.

“I must stay in the palace, my lady. I will try to disguise your escape for as long as possible. You must continue alone,” she said quietly.

Anya nodded. From here on, she would be on her own. She would have no companions, no company. From here on, she would be a regular person, ready to embark on the hunt for the traitor, Kole Tasker. She could not return until she held the Arcane Rune in her hands. A shudder ran down her spine, and Eliza curtsied, ready to leave. Just as the girl was about to turn back, Anya spoke. “Thank you so much, Eliza. For everything. I am glad you were with me.”

The girl looked back, and smiled again. “It was my pleasure to serve you, my lady.”

With that she hurried back into the darkness of the passage, and Anya started to feel very alone. She turned back toward the doors, lowered her head, and stepped out. She kept her eyes fixed on the ground in front of her, and moved with a slight shuffle. A few servants moved around her, talking to one another on their way out of the palace.

She was walking over the threshold, the two guards behind her talking to one another, oblivious to her passing, when she heard a voice from inside, cold and commanding.

“Ariannya Vasquez,” it said.

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