Scarlet Dusk

Caso Fornax has been given the most important mission of her life. In a move to seize power from the oppressive Kaiser Draco Cetus and his daughter Princess Virgo, the rebel organization Scarlet Dusk sends her into the palace to pose as a maid. Caso's job is simple: find out how to get the organization around the security and into the palace to assassinate Kaiser Draco and his daughter on her wedding day. This is one of the easiest missions Caso has ever been given, but everything starts to go wrong when she starts to fall in love with someone destined to die. As the wedding day quickly approaches, Caso must choose whether she should stay loyal to Scarlet Dusk or follow her heart no matter where it takes her.

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6. Chapter Five

 

CH. 5

 

    Too early in the morning, the phone on my desk rang. Even with the drapes shut, I could tell it was still dark outside. What could Virgo possibly want this early? I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed to answer the phone.

    “Yeah?” I groaned sleepily.

    “Wake up, we have shit to do,” she said, sounding like she was wide awake already.

    I yawned. “The party isn’t until this evening. There’s plenty of time.”

    “Clearly you’ve never been to a palace party before. Get your ass up here.”

    I put the phone down and stretched. I had fallen asleep in my uniform from the day before and decided to just wear it again and fix my hair. As I was leaving my room, Pyxis ambushed me in the hallway.

    “Good morning, Lady Cassiopeia,” He greeted me. “What a coincidence how I keep running into you.”

    “Not really,” I disagreed. “It’s not like you sleep in the room next to me or anything like that. If you don’t mind, Virgo called for me.”

    “I’m headed up there too. Such a beautiful lady should always have an escort,” Pyxis said, oozing with fake charm and cheap seduction.

    At that moment, Vega came out of her room. I could tell she had heard everything. Even though she was annoyingly inexperienced, I was glad to have any kind of back up when dealing with Pyxis. Besides, getting rid of unwanted guys didn’t take any kind of formal training.

    “Caso, can you help me with something?” She asked. “It’ll only take a moment.”

    “Yeah, sure. Sorry, Pyxis, but it looks like I have to do something. I’m sure you can walk yourself upstairs,” I said with a smirk.

    Vega pulled me away down the other hallway, stopping at the back staircase.

    “What is that guy’s problem?” she huffed.

    “He can’t get laid. Thanks for the help,” I said.

    “No problem! I said I’ve got your back, didn’t I? Anyway, I’ve got to go. You think you’re good on your own?”

    I nodded. She waved goodbye and took off back down the hallway while I went upstairs. Virgo was waiting outside of her room for me, holding a stopwatch. She gave me a disapproving look.

    “You’re slow,” she complained.

    “Sorry, I sort of ran into trouble,” I apologized.

    “Whatever. Get your ass in here.”

    I went into her room and collapsed onto the sofa, still not fully awake. Suddenly, Virgo was at my side with a glass in her hand.

    “Drink this, it should wake you up,” she said.

    I took a sip expecting it to just be coffee, but choked at the bitter taste as the liquid went down. Whatever was in that glass smelled like alcohol.

    “What the hell is this?” I asked angrily.

    “Calm down, Caso, it’s just champagne. Drink it, you’ll perk right up.”

    I set the glass down on the coffee table and stood up. “How much have you had?”

    Virgo rolled her eyes. “Only a glass or two. I’m fine, it was just some pre-party drinks. I’m not even buzzed yet.”

    I gave her a disbelieving look. “If you say so. Just be careful.”

    “Hey, you were hired to assist me, not judge all of my personal decisions, so step the fuck off, okay?” She snapped.

    “I’m supposed to take care of you!” I argued back. “I’m not trying to stop you from having fun, I just don’t want you to get hurt! How hard is that for you to understand?”

    There was silence for a moment and Virgo’s shoulders slumped down. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m just a little high strung from last night. I hate budget meetings.”

    I walked over and took her hands, forcing her to meet my eyes. “Then you can call me up to talk. You don’t need to drink to feel better.”

    “Where did you come from, Caso?” Virgo whispered. “It feels like you were sent to be my guardian angel.”

    Silence filled the room and I thought for a moment that she might kiss me. Then Virgo pulled away and wandered over to her vanity. I was shaken. How had kissing gotten into my mind? She and I were friends. More importantly, she was the princess and she was getting married soon. Though I had never thought much about my sexuality, I could potentially see myself with a girl, especially if it was Virgo. I pushed the thoughts away. There was nothing going on, I was just tired.

    “If you’re not going to finish that drink, I will,” Virgo said, snapping me back into reality.

    I downed the rest of the glass of champagne to keep her from having it. She also wasn’t wrong about it perking me up. Over at the vanity, Virgo was sorting through bottles of nail polish.

    “What are we doing?” I asked, walking over to her.

    “If we want them to be done and look good by the party, we need to do our nails now. What color do you think I should do, brown or white?”

    “Definitely brown,” I said.

    Virgo grinned. “I have a sparkly midnight blue for you.”

    We had briefly seen our party dresses at the fitting, so we knew which colors would match. Virgo took one of my hands and I took the other one one of hers. We sat there and painted each other’s nails.

    “Damn, Caso, your nails are nicer than mine,” She commented.

    “I don’t know how. I don’t do anything special to them. It must be magic,” I said.

    Virgo smiled at me. “You sure are full of magic, then.”

    Eventually we moved on to the other hand and our toes. Virgo decided to forgo doing a top coat since we only needed them to look nice for tonight. By the time we finished and they were dry, we were late to breakfast. We rushed downstairs to the dining room. Eridanus had helped himself to the throne at the head of the table since Kaiser Draco never used it. I hadn’t seen him at a single meal since I had arrived at the palace. Pavo and Pyxis weren’t there either.

    “Good morning,” he greeted us. “I thought I have to eat alone on my first day in the palace.”

    “Sorry, but you’re not that lucky,” Virgo said with a smirk. “Did you already order?”

    “Yeah, just the regular. I know what I want, I’m not a very adventurous guy,” Eridanus answered, taking a sip of his coffee.

    A waitress soon brought the food out and poured glasses of orange juice for Virgo and I. Virgo seemed half starved with the way she was tearing through her waffles. I wondered when she woke up. A better question might’ve been if she woke up this morning; she could’ve been up all night for what I knew.

    “Who’s ready to party?” Eridanus asked between bites of eggs with cheese.

    “I hope you know about the reception in the second floor lounge this afternoon before the party,” Virgo said. “You know, that part where all these random people we only know from events like this come up to us and ask the same pointless questions.”

    “Do you think the Kaiser will show up to the reception?” I asked.

    “Hell no,” Virgo snorted. “He’ll be at the party so that people don’t question why he’s not there.”

    “The less we have to see of him, the better,” Eridanus agreed.

    The dishes were cleared away when we were done eating. Eridanus waved goodbye as we went our separate ways. Virgo and I went back up to her room. She went straight to her desk and grabbed a folder before gesturing for me to sit down on the sofa with her.

    “This is your guide of who the guests are that you need to be worried about. They’re either annoying or disruptive,” Virgo said, handing me the folder. The first section was ladies of the court. Every single one was on the list. Virgo had written out was wrong with each of them along with a photograph so I knew what they looked like and could avoid them.

    “All the ladies of the court are insufferable,” She warned. “They’ll probably come up to you with complaints even though you won’t be in uniform. Answer politely and get the fuck away. Lady Canes Venatici can typically be found trying to start a scandal, so do what you can to stop her. You are technically a lady of the court, but none of them will treat you with a shred of respect if they know you’re actually just a maid. Anyone else of this list who’s not part of Pagonia’s court doesn’t matter so much. I encourage you to be rude back, but don’t get into any real fights. That’s how my last maid was fired.”

    “Hold up,” I said, “This is a lot at once.”

    Virgo laughed. “You’ll figure it out. It’s pretty easy to tell who’s a bitch and who’s not, but I wanted to give you a head start anyway.”

    “Thanks. I’ll try to memorize this,” I said.

    “Back to the court members, the guys are going to be all over you. Unlike the women, they don’t care if you’re a maid. As long as you’re a court lady, you’re fair game, so if they ask you to dance, grit your teeth and do it. That’s it, that’s all you’re required to do. Anything else, and I’ll have them removed, alright?”

    “Sounds good,” I agreed.

    “I’m gonna take a shower while you look through that. You can take one after me,” Virgo said. She stood up and disappeared into the bathroom. I continued flipping through the folder, noticing a theme. All the women were marked as pretentious bitches while the men were flagged as womanizers. If this wasn’t a palace party, I’d think Virgo was being a little biased, but I had dealt with enough upper class assholes to know that was just how it worked.

    Virgo came out of the bathroom in a robe, a trail of steam following her. I went in next. Her bathroom was spacious, with a separate shower and bathtub, a large sink, a toilet obviously, and a two person hot tub in the back corner. I slid the glass door to the shower open and stepped inside. I loved the feeling of warm water on my skin. If I could, I would’ve stayed in there forever.

    As soon as I turned the water off, their was a knock at the door. I wrapped myself up in one of the fluffy white towels on the shelf next to the sink and answered the door. Virgo was standing there with a blue and white flower print dress.

    “You can wear this to the reception. We’ll have time to change before the party. If it doesn’t fit, I can find something else,” She offered.

    I took the dress. “Thanks.”

    Virgo smirked. “Now put some clothes on, you sexy motherfucker.”

    She closed the door and I draped the dress over the counter. Once my dripping hair was wrapped up in a towel, I pulled the dress on. It was the same style as my uniform with a fitted bodice and a flared skirt. The top was a little tight, but not unbearably so.

    When I got out of the bathroom, Virgo had changed into a similar white and pink dress. She rushed over when she saw me, dropping a pair of navy blue stilettos into my arms.

    “Our shoes and dresses for the party came while you were showering. Eridanus has a press interview, so we’re going to stay up here for lunch and spend the time getting ready for the reception.”

    “How is there still that much left to do?” I groaned.

    “There isn’t really. We have to get ready now to greet the first guests due to arrive in a little over an hour. Just smile and wave,” Virgo instructed.

    I sat down on the edge of her bed and put my shoes on. Virgo dug through her closet until she found a pair of pink stilettos to match her dress. Then she went to her vanity and started sorting through makeup. I joined her and she slid me the colors she thought would look best. Once that was done, she unwrapped my hair from the towel and let it tumble down.

    “You always have your hair up. Let’s do something different for once,” Virgo said, getting out a curling iron.

     While waiting for it to heat up, she started braiding certain sections of my hair. She curled the rest one part at a time, refusing to let me look in the mirror until she was done. Virgo moved on to putting jeweled pins in the front.

    “Alright, you can look now,” she said as she finished.

    I turned towards the vanity mirror and let out a gasp. Virgo had braided the top parts of my hair into a crown around my head adorned with sparkling pins like a real tiara. The rest of it was left down and curled. It looked so beautiful, I didn’t know what to say. Smiling, Virgo moved on to do her own hair. She did her usually hairstyle, a braid over her shoulder. To finish it off, she opened the top drawer on her vanity and took out a silver sparkling crown that seemed to be encrusted with pearls and diamonds. Virgo carefully wove it into her hair and pinned it into place before checking the time on her watch.

    “The first guests are due to arrive in a few minutes. We need to head downstairs,” She said, getting up from the vanity.

    We went downstairs to the entry hall and waited. It hadn’t been long when the palace doors were thrown open by two guards escorting a finely dressed couple in. The man bowed while the woman curtsied at Virgo. They nodded at me respectfully.

    “I present the Master and Mistress of Penbrook Estates,” one of the guards announced, reading off from the guest list.

    “Welcome to the palace,” Virgo greeted with a warm smile. If I didn’t know her, I would’ve thought it was real.

    “We’re happy to be here, dear,” Mistress Penbrook said.

    “Congratulations on your engagement,” Master Penbrook added.

    “Thank you. Caso will show you to your room. Guest suite 210. Follow the numbers and you’ll be able to find it.”

    Virgo was almost right. Even following the numbers, I did turn down one wrong hallway. I was relieved when I finally found the right room.

    “Is there anything else you need?” I asked.

    “Not that I’m a aware of. We’ll call for a maid if we think of something, dear,” Mistress Penbrook said.

    I went back to the entry hall. We continued greeting guests for the next hour without incident until a lady with long blond hair and dripping jewels marched in as if she owned the place. Virgo stiffened right away. She grabbed my hand and gave it a quick squeeze.

    “Try to keep your cool,” she whispered.

    “I present Lady Canes Venatici of Pagonia’s Court,” the guard announced.

    “Humph,” Lady Canes said, glaring at us.

    “Welcome to the palace, Lady,” Virgo said, her face stretching into an even wider fake smile.

    Lady Canes was still giving us a sour look. She looked me up and down a few times before speaking.

    “How lovely for you, princess, you got a new maid. This one’s definitely prettier than the last.”

    Virgo lifted her chin in the air. “She is. We certainly couldn’t keep Ascella after the incident.”

    “Yes,” Lady Canes purred, “I hope there are no hard feelings about that. I meant no ill will when I said what I said. Hopefully your new girl is much better behaved.”

    She ran a finger down my face, still giving me a disgusted look like I was a dog that just pissed all over the floor. I didn’t like being treated like property, but I kept my mouth shut and resisted the urge to slap her.

    Lady Canes grabbed my face suddenly. Anger flashed in my eyes and she laughed.

    “That’s right, girl. Know your place.”

    I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to get Virgo in trouble. Lady Canes squeezed my face harder, her nails digging into my skin.

    “That hurts, doesn’t it?” She snarled, gripping me tighter. “Aren’t you going to say something, girl? Aren’t you going to tell me to stop?”

    “Lady Canes, kindly remove your hands from Lady Caso before I have you thrown out!” Virgo commanded, looking downright murderous.

    She shoved me aside, finally letting go. “This girl is no lady, just a maid. I’m only trying to make sure she understands her place.”

    “As Official Main Assistant to Her Royal Highness, Caso is a lady of the court just the same as you. You can either apologize to her or get out,” Virgo said.

    “My apologies, Lady Caso,” Lady Canes said, contempt burning in her eyes. “I think I’ll go to my room now.”

    She had her assistants carry her luggage as she disappeared up the stairs. Virgo let out a sigh of relief.

    “Did that bitch hurt you?” She asked, looking at my face. “Her nails left a nasty mark, but you’re not bleeding. I can’t believe you just stood there and took it, but it’s a good thing you did. If anything had happened, I’d be forced to fire you.”

    “I didn’t do anything this time. That damn well better never happen again. I don’t care who she thinks she is, no one is going to treat me like an animal,” I said angrily.

    Virgo hugged me tightly. “It won’t, I promise. If anyone wants to hurt you, they’ll have to go through me first. I think we should consider our greeter duties over. We can go back upstairs and I’ll call for lunch.”

    Once we were back up in Virgo’s room eating some amazing roast beef sandwiches, I was finally able to calm down. We were halfway through eating when Eridanus burst into the room through the doors that connected Virgo’s suite to his.

    “I heard about what happened. Is Caso okay?” He asked.

    “I’m fine,” I said, “But Lady Canes won’t be for long.”

    “I really wish that was possible, but Lady Canes is the last person you want to mess with. She’s self-centered and ruthless,” Eridanus warned.

    “I noticed,” I grumbled. “She insufferable. Why is she even still invited to parties?”

    “Mom’s not here to keep her out,” Virgo said wistfully, staring at the pictures on her mantle. “My father doesn’t care as long as it doesn’t personally affect him.”

    “Kaiser Draco barely interacts with the the guests as it is,” Eridanus added, “Since Virgo will be Queen soon, it’s not his job anymore. I have to get ready for the reception. You girls stay out of trouble.”

    “We can try, but trouble seems to be finding us lately,” Virgo said.

    Eridanus went back to his room and we finished eating. After putting the cart out in the hallway, Virgo insisted on fixing up my makeup to cover the fingernail marks.

    “No one should notice now,” she said. “Trust me, it’s the little things people like to gossip about.”

    “I don’t care. I don’t have a reputation to uphold,” I pointed out.

    “You will soon. It’s one of the many downsides to palace life. Someone is always watching and criticizing your every move,” Virgo told me.

    She didn’t know how wrong she was. I wouldn’t be at the palace for long, but I certainly would be leaving a rather larger impact behind.

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