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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5. Chapter Four

 

CH. 4

 

    The next morning the palace was in an uproar preparing for the prince’s arrival. Security had been tripled to make sure no one could get into the palace who wanted to hurt him. This was ironic to me since I knew there was no one to keep out; I was already here and I could wait. There was no rush to complete the mission. Everything was going as planned.

    Except it wasn’t. Virgo was nothing like I had expected. I thought she would be cold and cruel like Kaiser Draco, but she seemed to hate him more than the rebels did. The day before, I had really gotten to know her, and she was starting to grow on me. I really didn’t want to hurt her, let alone arrange her assassination.

    No, I thought, no backing out. This is for the good of my kingdom.

    I didn’t let it bother me. Crux could probably be talked into letting the princess live as long as I guaranteed she would cooperate. Virgo would side with us, I already knew that. There was nothing to worry about.

    So why did something feel off with the mission?

    I was in Virgo’s room sitting at her desk going through documents listing her tasks for the day. There was a rough draft of a menu for the welcome party the next night and a draft for the music program along with photos of different decorating options. I held one up for Virgo to see.

    “What do you think of the silver lights with the sparklers?” I asked.

    “The goal is to have a good time, not burn the palace down,” Virgo pointed out. “Next.”

    I sighed and put the folder down. “Can’t we just wait for the prince to get here and ask him?”

    “Nope, he’s coming this evening and the decoration choices are due mid afternoon. We can take a break, though, if you’re hungry.

    My face lit up. “We’re doing the menu?”

    “Hell yes, bitch. It’s taste testing time,” She announced.

    I looked over the menu draft, struggling to read the fancy writing. Virgo noticed and laughed. “Don’t even bother trying to figure out what that says. I gave up on trying to read the head chef’s handwriting years ago.”

    I threw the paper aside and followed Virgo out of the room. We rode the elevator down to the second floor and Virgo showed me the way to the kitchens. I was still trying to learn my way around the palace. The kitchens were lively and full of chatter with workers all over the place, each carrying out their specific job. We went through the doors in the back to a quieter room with less going on. The head chef heard us come in and immediately spun around.

    “Princess Virgo!” He exclaimed, “I was about to call up for you! What do you think about the cuisine I’ve thought up for the party?”

    “It looked amazing!” Virgo lied, “But I think sampling all the options is in order.”

    The chef nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, yes! I have all your choices prepared!”

    He led us over to the back counter where trays of all kinds of food were spread out. There were all kinds of things from finger sandwiches to cheese platters and many other things I couldn’t name. I thought about how all the food was enough to feed every single hungry child in my neighborhood, and it made me mad that the Kaiser was selfish enough to hoard it for one of his lavish parties.

    “Even though it is a party, I still wanted to have a main course of sorts,” the chef said. “I wanted to make the prince feel welcome here, so I tried to mirror the cuisine in the Outer Highlands. These are the four options I was thinking of.”

    We tried the tiny sandwiches first, followed by similar sandwiches done on crackers instead of bread. Virgo looked at me for my opinion.

    “I liked the first ones better,” I decided.

    “I did as well,” she agreed. “The crackers throw off the texture. I definitely want the first ones at the party.

    Then we tasted two kinds of sushi before moving on to sampling cheeses and finally parfait dessert cups. There were so many things with so many different flavors, my taste buds were overwhelmed by the end of it. I thought we were done when Virgo said, “And now we do my favorite part.”

    The chef laughed cheerfully. “Yes, you must tell me which wine you like best! I have five options for you today!”

    I got a sinking feeling in my chest. From what I knew about Virgo, a “taste” meant a glass of each type of wine. She didn’t need to be having that much alcohol, especially not so early in the day.

    The chef got out glasses for us and popped open the first bottle. He poured us both a generous amount for a simple taste test. I took a small sip while Virgo gulped half of it down.

    “I like it,” she said, finishing the glass. Virgo looked over at me. “Are you going to finish that?”

    I set the wine glass down on the counter. “No, and you’re not going to either. We’re just sampling, remember?”

    She rolled her eyes at me. “Fine.”

    Virgo only took a few sips after that. We ended up deciding on the last wine and went back up to her suite to figure out the decorations. Two hours later we sent off the winning picks and went down to the ballroom to listen to the different music options. When we got back upstairs, lunch was already over, so Virgo called food up for us. She flopped down on her sofa and yawned.

    “This princess shit is so exhausting,” she vented. “I don’t really care about the food and music as long as there’s food and music, you know? Everyone doesn’t need to be getting my opinion on everything.”

    “Can’t relate. I’ve never been able to control anything,” I said bitterly.

    Virgo sat up. “Then feel lucky. It’s not easy to run a country. My father is a dick. I’ll be the first to say that, but his job is a losing situation. There are no right choices. No matter what you try to do, people are going to be upset with something. Sure, there are wrong decisions, but there’s no real way to succeed. You can always do better, even when you’re doing your best. It’s infuriating.”

    There was a knock at the door and I got up from the armchair to answer it. A maid was waiting in the hallway with our food. I thanked her and rolled the cart in. Virgo flew up off the sofa.

    “I wonder what we’re having today,” she said, taking the covers off of the trays. Wonderful smells were released into the air as she revealed a large fillet of salmon, freshly baked bread, the most buttery bowl of corn, two fruit cups, and some slices of lemon meringue pie. She passed me a plate and I filled it up before sitting down next to her on the sofa to eat. Virgo popped open the bottle of sparkling lemonade that the chef had sent along and poured us each a glass. I gave her a look and she said, “Don’t worry, it’s not alcoholic.”

    I took a glass from her. “I bet you wish it was.”

    She laughed happily. “You’re not wrong.”

    We ate all the food on the cart and drank most of the bottle of lemonade. I finished my third glass and yawned loudly. Exhaustion was starting to seep in. All that food combined with the wine from earlier was starting to make me sleepy.

    “Is it your nap time, Caso?” Virgo asked jokingly. Her brown eyes were bright and she seemed more genuinely happy than I had ever seen her before.

    “I wish,” I groaned. “Don’t we have work to do?”

    “Nope, not until Eridanus gets here. Go ahead and sleep. I don’t care,” She offered.

    I was too tired to argue. Stretching, I leaned back against the sofa. As soon as I closed my eyes, my head slid down into Virgo’s shoulder. She started laughing, and before I could reposition myself, Virgo slid over and guided my head down to her lap.

    “Go to sleep,” she whispered, her hair tickling my face. “I’ll wake you up when it’s time to get back to work.”

    I let myself relax. It was a little weird laying on the princess’s lap, but I soon fell asleep anyway.

 

❈ ❈ ❈ ❈ ❈

 

    I was startled awake by someone knocking at the door. At first I didn’t know where I was until I remembered falling asleep on Virgo’s sofa. The knock came again. Virgo shifted under me and groaned; she must’ve fallen asleep too.

    “Come in,” She called out with a yawn.

    The door opened and Pyxis stepped in. He did a double take at how we were positioned on the sofa before clearing his throat and saying, “I apologize, Your Highness, am I interrupting something?”

    “Only our nap. What do you want?”

    “The Prince has arrived. He’s waiting in the entry hall for you.”

    “Tell him I’ll be down in a minute,” Virgo sighed.

    Pyxis bowed and left, giving us one last lingering look. I sat up, my hair tumbling down down over my shoulders. Virgo noticed and said, “Hold on, let me put it back up for you.”

    “Do you need a brush?” I asked.

    “I got this, Caso,” Virgo assured me.

    She found all the loose pins and expertly twisted my hair back up into a bun. Once all the pins were back in place, she said, “Okay, face me.”

    I turned around and Virgo reached up and took my black headband off. She smoothed my hair back, her hands soft and warm when they brushed against my face. Virgo slid my headband back on and smiled.

    “There. Now you don’t look like you’ve been sleeping on your boss’s lap.”

    I fake pouted. “I was tired.”

    She laughed purely and stood up. “Come on, it’s time for you to finally meet my fiancé.”

    Virgo took my hands and pulled me up from the sofa. Someone had cleared out the food cart and our dirty plates while we were sleeping. The bottle of sparkling lemonade was gone too, leaving me slightly disappointed.

    As we were walking down the hallway, I jokingly asked, “So what do I need to know about this guy before I meet him?”

    We stepped into the elevator and she hit the button for the first floor. “Let’s see, he has horrible handwriting, he can’t ride a horse to save his life, and he hates chocolate.”

    “Who can actually hate chocolate?”

    “Right? We’re having a chocolate wedding cake and there’s nothing he can do about it,” Virgo said.

    We got out of the elevator on the first floor and Virgo showed me the way to the entry hall. I would never get the hang of navigating her maze of a house. When we got there, Eridanus was waiting for us. He was surrounded by suitcases and had two bodyguards standing behind him. His blond hair was windblown and his navy blue suit was wrinkled from the long ride. He lit up when he saw Virgo and rushed over to hug her.

    “GoGo, it’s been too long!” Eridanus exclaimed.

    “Call me that one more time and you can get the fuck out of my house,” she laughed.

    He pulled back and looked at me. “And who’s this beautiful young lady?”

    “Caso, my maid, and stop flirting; you’re engaged.”

    Eridanus rolled his eyes. “This is the problem with women. You can’t be nice without them thinking it’s flirting.”

    Virgo sighed exasperatedly. “I’m already sick of you. How am I going to tolerate this for the rest of my life?

    “The same way I do. Don’t think about what’s actually going on, just pretend like it’s a really long sleepover. Let’s go up to my room so I can put all this shit away.”

    The bodyguards grabbed his bags and Virgo led the way back upstairs. She took us to the empty suite connected to hers. It was a lot plainer than hers; more stripped down and less personal, which made sense since no one had lived in it since the Kaiser was growing up. The bodyguards put the suitcases down at the foot of the bed and Eridanus gestured for them to leave the room.

    “These decorations suck,” he commented flopping over on his bed.

    “Tell somebody what you want then and they’ll get it for you,” Virgo said, crossing her arms over her chest.

    Eridanus rolled over onto his side. “Nope, too lazy. Someone else can do it.”

    There was an unexpected knock at the door and I answered it. Pavo stepped into the room.

    “Welcome to Pagonia, Your Highness!” He greeted the prince. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have to steal the princess from you.”

    “What’s going on?” Virgo asked.

    “Kaiser Draco is ill tonight and has requested that you fill in for him at the monthly budget meeting. I’ve been instructed to escort you there now,” Pavo answered.

    Her face was unusually expressionless. “Alright. Caso, you stay here and help Eridanus unpack.”

    “Do you want me to go back to your room after?” I asked.

    She shook her head. “You can go to bed. I’ll call if I need you.”

    Virgo and Pavo went to the meeting, leaving me alone with Prince Eridanus. He sat up on the bed and gave me a long look before sliding off the bed to grab one of his suitcases.

    “So how long have you been working here?” He inquired.

    “A few days,” I said nonchalantly.

    Eridanus looked surprised. “Really? Virgo doesn’t normally attach herself to people that fast. You must be special.”

    I shrugged. “I don’t know about that.”

    “Oh, come on. I haven’t seen Virgo this happy in a long time. I didn’t think she could be so cheerful with the wedding coming up.”

    “Why are you two getting married if neither of you want to?” I asked, opening one of the other suitcases to start hanging his clothes in the closet.

    “We don’t have a choice,” Eridanus said bitterly. “Draco has a lot more influence over the neighboring kingdoms than people know. He threatened the Outer Highlands with invasion if my parents didn’t agree to have me marry Virgo. This is his way to guarantee complete control over my kingdom. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with Virgo, but I’ll do what I have to do.”

    I nodded in understanding. “I’ve noticed how you look at her. You seem like you love her, but not like you’re in love with her.”

    Eridanus laughed. “You noticed that, but not the other looks?”

    I furrowed my brow. “What do you mean?”

    “Nevermind. You’ll figure it out.”

    Unaware of what he meant, I moved on to the next suitcase. There was a short silence before I asked, “What can you tell me about the princess? I’d like to be able to understand her better. What was she like as a kid?”

    “Oh, God, where to start?” He sighed. “Virgo’s always been her own person. She was really happy as a child up until Queen Lynx disappeared. Everything sort of fell apart after that. Her relationship with her father started falling apart and now they don’t really get along. I think that’s probably all I should say. I want to respect Virgo’s privacy, but there are still things I don’t think she would care if you know.”

    I decided to ask one of my more pressing questions. “She mentioned what happened to her balcony. Was that an isolated thing? Is she okay now?”

    It wasn’t just curiosity, I was worried about her. She didn’t seem very stable, and even though I knew she was about to be assassinated, I didn’t want her to die by her own hand. No one should have to go through that, especially not Virgo. She was too beautiful, too full of life. This was when I started to have second thoughts about the mission. Could I really be responsible for killing her?

    Eridanus stood up and stretched. “Like I said, she’s had trouble ever since her mom vanished. I’m not going to say anything more than that,” he answered, finally addressing my questions.

    “She hides medication in her room,” I blurted out.

    He looked up immediately. “What? She shouldn’t do that. She really shouldn’t do that. How did you find out?”

    “Virgo told me my first day here. She interrupted the orientation and pulled me out to be her personal maid. After we got up to her room, she told me how to get her some aspirin for her hangover.”

    “Holy fuck she must trust you!” He exclaimed. “We’ve been best friends since we were born and even I didn’t know that. Just make sure she’s careful. If you think she’s slipping, dump it all, okay?”

    I nodded. “I don’t want her to get hurt.”

    Eridanus smiled. “Neither do I. Why don’t you head back to your room? I’m good on my own.”

    I bowed on my way out and tried to remember the way to the elevator. When I got back to my room, I was glad to see that Pyxis was nowhere in sight. Vega, however, was waiting outside my room.

    “Oh, good, you’re back!” She said.

    “Do you need something?” I asked.

    “Can we talk for a moment? In your room?” Vega requested. She was twisting her hands nervously.

    “Sure, I guess,” I agreed, mildly confused.

    We went into my room and she closed the door. Whatever she wanted to talk about, she wanted to keep it private.

    “I know who you are,” She said. “I know who sent you and I’m pretty sure I know why you’re here.”

    “What are you talking about?” I asked.

    “You’re a member of Scarlet Dusk.”

    There was complete silence in the room for what felt like and entire minute before I said, “How do you know that?”

    “Oh, jeez, don’t freak out. I’m not going to tell anyone,” Vega said quickly. “I’m from the Silver Glove.”

    The Silver Glove was a smaller organization than Scarlet Dusk with slightly different goals for Pagonia. They tended to be more peaceful and a lot less effective in their methods of governmental reform.

    “What do you want from me?” I asked.

    “Nothing! I know our groups don’t quite believe the same things, but I wanted you to know that I’ve got your back. You’re here to spy, right?”

    “Yes,” I lied. Vega had rookie stamped all over her. Anyone who knew what they were doing would never reveal themself as a rebel, even to someone from another organization. It was reckless and stupid and could lead to her execution if she wasn’t careful.

    “So am I. I just wanted us to be on the same page,” she gushed.

    I gave her a fake smile. “I’m so glad you did. If you don’t mind, I’d like to get ready for bed now. It’s been a long day.”

    “I understand, I’ll go,” Vega said. She left and I rolled my eyes. This was why I didn’t take the Silver Glove seriously. They didn’t train people before throwing them into delicate situations. I didn’t know much about Vega, but I did know that amateurs don’t last long. They never did.

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