N E V E R T R U S T A
R E A L F A K E.
The ball had already started when she finished braiding her long raven black hair. She decided an intricate up-do would work for the occasion but she did not account for the time it would take to do it. “Ethric! Is my dress and mask ready?” Eliora called to her house servant as she finished tying teal silk strips into her hair. By this time Eliora was ready, she just had to get into her dress.
“Coming, coming, milady.” Ethric carried in a lavish ball gown, one that was handcrafted to fit her every curve. Ethric helped her into it, lacing the corset strings in the back until she could barely breathe. Stepping back, Ethric and Eliora admired the tailors work of the dress. The blues contrasted perfectly with Eliora’s bright green eyes while the greens were subdued enough to heighten their color. Along with her black hair and porcelain skin, Eliora was a knock out, and she could tell by Ethric express that she wasn’t the only one who thought so.
“Where’s my mask?” Eliora asked as she was handed a bright teal and black masquerade mask. Ethric helped tie the back on while Eliora held it in place with her eyes. “I hope Calvin will trip over himself when he sees me.” Eliora grinned as Ethric finished tying a secure bow in the back. So many days had she cried over Calvin, her former best friend and future betrothed. After she caught him in bed with not one but two of the housemaids, she called it off and though her parents were furious at her, she couldn’t stand the sight of him. No that that stopped her from wishing it never happened and they would still some day get married.
“You look lovely Mrs. Gemsphere, I’m sure all the men will be rushing after you.” Ethric commented as he found her shoes and gave her a once over before she was ready to head out. “I hope so.” Eliora grinned as she took one last look at herself before heading out the door to the grand ball that waited for her.
All the Lords and Ladys came to this yearly ball thrown by King Gemsphere. It was a renown event that took place every two years, where only the wealthiest and most elite Lords and Ladys attended. King Gemsphere always changed the theme up, forcing his attendees to go along with his plan, whether they find it foolish or not. The masquerade this year was his daughter’s idea, one that she seemed a little too excited over.
“Darling, won’t you come welcome the guests with me?”
Mrs. Gemsphere called to her husband as she danced her way forward. Lady Gemsphere was a plain looking woman of average height and average build. The one thing that attracted Yoren Gemsphere was her eyes. They were the most shocking green eyes he had ever seen, ones that pierced into his soul and could read his every thought. That was how the two met and after Yoren’s father died, she became Queen Alyssa Gemsphere, wife of King Yoren Gemsphere.
Yoren smiled at his wife, flipping his own plain black mask down over his face. “Why certainly dear, let us give them the royal welcome.” The two chuckled as they lost themselves in the sea of people.
While her parents were off welcoming the late comers, Eliora was already taken to dance by one of the Lords. Despite the mask, many people knew who she was from the extravagance of her gown. The gems and jewels that adored her dress sparkled like none of the other women wore. In her mind she may as well have been queen.
Dance after dance, Eliora was tired by time midnight came around. She wanted to rest for a while and take her sweaty mask off. Her serving girls and maids kept on dancing while she wandered off on her own. Out the entrance and into the halls, Eliora walked slowly down the corridors, her heels in hand with her bare feet against the ground. The concrete floor was cool, and Eliora was sure her feet would start making the floor smoke, they were so hot. Finding a nearby bench that had a view of the gardens, Eliora tossed her shoes behind her and unlatched the window. The night’s breeze blew her braids gentle as she sucked in deep breathes of the fresh air. After being surrounded by so many people fresh air of her own was nice.
Just as she was about to lift her mask to let her face cool, a shadow passed through the moonlight, quick enough for her to think she imagined it. Curious, Eliora forgot what she was doing and poked her head out. She looked around and saw nothing; a shiver going up her spine that she dismissed was from the cool air. She closed the window and latched it shut, telling herself she was just tired and seeing things. When she turned to grab her shoes, she came face to face with a stranger in an all-black tux. He wore a black mask that covered his face and had an interesting curvature to it that she didn’t remember seeing in the ball room. “Oh, sorry.” Eliora was startled but tried hiding it in her voice. As startled as she was, her eyes couldn’t help but roam over the man’s body, taking in his lean muscled figure, jet black hair, and relaxed but on edge stance. Having nothing to do all day in a castle allowed Eliora to practice picking up these little details of people to judge and analyze them.
“Shouldn’t you be in the ball room, dancing with all the other folks of the land?” Eliora tried putting some authority in her voice as if she were talking to a lost child. Instead of a response, the strange stared at her silently, capturing her gaze by piercing blue eyes. They weren’t the usual blue that was common among the people, but a deep, icy cold blue that seemed to strip her layer by layer. From how close they were (how they got so close she didn’t know or notice) Eliora could see little gold flecks in the sea of blue, making his eyes even more intense. As if hypnotized, Eliora lost her pompous attitude and held his gaze.
“Who are you?”
She whispered, almost scared of this mysterious figure. Again her question went unanswered and she was about to ask again but the moment she opened her mouth she heard the echoes of screams coming from the ballroom. Looking towards the hall she came from, Eliora started towards it but felt a hand grab her wrist, gentle yet firm. “What are you-“She looked at the masked figure with confusion and a hint of fear. “Follow me Eliora, your life is in danger.” A deep yet quiet voice spoke to her, almost hurried. The stranger pulled her wrist and reluctantly she followed, the screaming becoming louder and louder. “What’s happening?” Her voice hitched, not allowing herself to imagine what was causing those screams.
“No time, we have to hurry.”
The masked figure pulled her along, winding through the halls as if he knew the place better than she. “C’mon.” They came to a door that led outside and ask the man headed out her sudden pause made him lose his grip, leaving her in the doorway. “This isn’t the time, we must go. Now.” He started towards her and she backed away. “I’m not going anywhere with you until you tell me what’s going on.” She crossed her arms, now frustrated.
Instead of an answer that she hoped to get, the man put her over his shoulder and headed toward the main gates. At first she struggled until she felt pressure on her neck and the last thing she remembered was the minty scent of the man and the sound of horse hooves galloping towards them.
With Eliora passed out, James rode as fast as the horse could gallop into the night, Faster and faster he had to get away from the castle, knowing the people inside would all be slaughtered by time dawn came. The plan had been to kill all the royals while they were gathered together and then get out. But Damian had bigger ideas, to just kill all the Nobles which would take care of the upper class entirely. Despite James’s warning, Damian put his plan into action and once it was set it couldn’t be undone.
James knew the archers would shatter the windows while the others swung in from the roof top. By time anyone knew what was happening all exits would be blocked off by inside men who had access to the room. Soon he pictured the blood shed starting, swords and daggers biting into flesh while blood covered the floor. He was fine with the Gemspheres dying, but to take out everyone else was a little much.
It was only by chance James came across Princess Eliora. He went in the back way to make sure no one escaped and there he saw her, bathed in moonlight that made her perfect, doll like skin glow. His hand had automatically come to the hilt of his throwing dagger, but absorbing the image of her made him think twice. In that brief moment he knew he had to save her, even though it meant facing the wraith of Damian himself.
Eliora groaned, feeling like a wagon trampled over her. Her body ached even though she didn’t know why and she came to realize she was on flat hard ground that didn’t resemble the floor of her castle at all. She sat up suddenly, alert to her surroundings. Her head pounded and she saw black spots but when her vision came into focus she saw the man from the castle, mask still covering his face except for his piercing eyes. “Who are you? What am I doing here? Where are we?” Question after question spilled out of her mouth as she felt herself tremble. Not only was she scared, but she was also cold, her dress doing nothing for her. She wanted to get up and walk around, maybe even run if she had the chance but when she began to move, she found herself not able to go more than a few feet, her ankle connected to a tree stump by a thick leather strap. “Why am I tied to a tree?” Another question came out and beneath her fear she felt rage bubble up inside of her. She was Eliora Gemsphere, her father the king. No man should be laying a hand on her. So to be kidnapped from her own castle and brought to some little camp area in God know where? Absurd.
James could see the fear and urgency in Eliora’s eyes. He had been watching her sleep for the past couple hours and though the temptation to lift her mask was there, he decided to leave her be. He was waiting for her to wake, making a fire and laying out some blankets he had tied to his horse. When she woke, he patiently listened to her questions, not speaking until he was sure she was done.
“Calm yourself. We are a couple miles outside of your estate and I’m the one who just saved your life. No thanks be necessary.” James grinned crookedly, trying to ease her fears. “I’m not going to hurt you, that’s why we had to run.” He could see her listening intently, as if his words would give her some enlightenment. He followed her eyes to the strap around her ankle and a smile came to his lips once more. “That, my dear, is so you won’t run away and try to go back to the others. It’s for your safety until you calm down.” James shrugged as if it were no big deal.
Eliora processed this, slower than usual. So she was with a strange man in a strange location and she has no ideas what to do next. Great. Not sure how to go about the situation, Eliora sat slump on the cold ground, silent until she eyed the blanket. “Hey, er… could you toss me that. I’m rather chilly.” She tried pulling a name out of him and she could see his internal struggle of giving or withholding it. James tossed her two of the four blankets and after a pause tossed the remaining two as well. “It’s James.” He said quietly, not sure if she would hear him or not. Eliora heard him alright and was delighted he offered up his name. “Oh, now we’re getting somewhere, James. If you could answer me next question of why am I hear that would be superb.” Eliora spoke in her sugary sweet voice, trying to coax some answers out of him. From previous guys she’s been around, she could see he was the quiet type with a shy sense of humor that either needed a little push or a slap in the face.
Once again James contemplated on telling her what he knew; after all it’s not like she could storm off into the night.
“Well, if you must-“ As James began speaking, her heard the call of The Lions. From being so far away, it was a quiet sound hat would be missed unless you were trained to listen for it, and because James had fourteen years of training his hearing was acute and picked it up right away. “Shite” He murmured to himself before jumping up. He untied Eliora’s ankle and whistled for his horse to come to them. “We have to leave, now. They’re on their way.” Confused, Eliora’s actions were slow as she tried comprehending. “Who are ‘they’ and what happens if they come?” James finished tying up the blankets and stamping out the fire, sending them into darkness. The only light that shone came from the moon, and both their eyes lit up as if they produced their own flames. Grabbing the reins of the horse, James motioned Eliora to get on. “Not until you answer my questions.” She said stubbornly, stomping her foot like a child. Her plan was to hold them up, but James had his own ideas. Picking her up once more, he hoisted her onto his horse and got on behind her. They picked up speed as The Lion’s roar came closer.
“You want answers? Fine, here they are. The Lion’s Scythe has been planning the Royal’s death for four years. Tonight was the night you were supposed to die; you, your mother, your father, everyone. All who were in the ballroom? Dead. The plan was just to kill the royal line but they got greedy and wanted to kill everyone. It was the perfect opportunity because everyone would be in one location eating and drinking without a second thought of your lives being in danger. I was supposed to cover the back for any escapees who might try and flee. That’s where I saw you and-“
Once more James was cut off because of a sound much to close for his comfort. He glanced over his shoulder and saw nothing at first, but squinting and tightening his eyes he saw the outline of other horses and riders coming after them. Eliora heard some incomprehensible words, most likely curses, being said under his breath but her brain wasn’t absorbing what they meant. Her mind was still stuck on the fact that her mother and father are dead, that it was their screams she heard back at the castle. Her disbelief that any of this was actually happening was only turned down by how stiff her body was from riding and how the scent of mint floated past her as James leaned closer and closer to pick up speed.
“You’re lying.” She whispered, her voice getting lost in the wind. She wanted to get as far away from James as she could, but her rational side said he had saved her life and if he wanted to kill her she’d be dead by now instead of being deadweight on his horse. As James tried making the horse ride faster, Eliora tried blocking out the noise, the pain, her thoughts. It was only when something flew by her and warm liquid began running down her thigh did she return. The pain wasn’t there, but touching the area Eliora knew there was blood on her hands. The sticky, sweet smell came to her as blood continued to pour down her leg. She was about to shout something to James until she heard, rather than felt, another something else go by. She felt it passing her ear, just about skimming it. Eliora wondered how neither of them got hit.
“We have to stop!” Eliora felt the panic rise slowly, her heart beating faster as her eyes stayed on the ground in front of them. If James responded she didn’t hear it because an unnatural noise came from the mouth of the horse and they were both going down together. Meeting the hard ground, Eliora grimaced in pain. She wasn’t even sure where the wound was from how long and layered her dress was, but judging by the wetness of one spot she assumed it was mid-thigh to upper. “C’mon.” A hand grabbed her arm and pulled her up. She whimpered in pain when she put weight on her leg, trying to contain just how bad it really felt. James halted and saw the state she was in. Before she could stop him, she caught a flash of sliver then heard the sound of ripping fabric. The bottom half of her dress was completely torn off, leaving almost both legs bare.
James tore the strips of dress into thinner pieces and began tying them around Eliora’s leg. “We have to find shelter.” He tied the cloth tightly and while it still hurt, Eliora could manage a good limp.
“I don’t think I can make it.” She said as he half ran, half dragged her. She felt tears spring to her eyes though she wasn’t sure who she was crying for; her mother and father whose dead bodies were still out there or herself for not being with them. She could hear how much James was struggling and thought if he just left her he’d be better off and almost as if he read her mind, James led them over to a big oak tree that was dug out just enough for her to climb under. “I’ll be right back. Stay here and stay quiet. Do not move until I come for you.” James stared intensely into her eyes, the moonlight making his blue eyes flash dangerously. Eliora nodded and brought her good knee to her chest while applying pressure to her other thigh.
Thoughts of hopelessness and death washed over her along with a little worry for James, who not too long revealed his name. Eliora just wished to be back at the castle with her mother and father, dancing to the small orchestra and fending off the young boys who thought they had a chance with her. It seemed like years ago she was there having fun and now she was here confused and scared. She began weeping quietly as images flashed before her and her head grew heavier. Not being able to keep it up her head fell against the trunk and while it took the pain away from her leg it also took away her thoughts and tears, allowing her to black out altogether and let fate decide what would happen.
James ran straight towards their pursuers, daggers in hand. He had many small throwing daggers on his body, along with a couple of knives and a fair sized sword. As he came closer and heard the horses, James threw both daggers in two different directions. From the sound he heard from the horses he knew he hit his target. The sad part being he didn’t know how many targets he had. With the darkness overhead, James had a small advantage of hiding in the tall grasses that came in patches. He waited until they reached him and used surprise to get one up on them. No doubt Damian was there, leading the others after him. Damian was one man to never cross, and all his life James felt like a small cub when Damian’s eye was turned on him. Seeing eerie yellow eyes that stood out in the dark, James threw two more daggers and rolled. The horses were close enough that he was able to roll under them and split their stomachs open. While the horses went down so did the riders and then did James have a chance to kill them.
“Stop this James, we know what you did and will forgive your sins as long as you hand her over.” He heard Damian’s voice as a shock of ice ran though his vains. “No, I won’t let you have her.” James knew what kind of men The Lions were, and he knew Eliora would not have a quick death. Sliding back into the shadows, James attacked from behind, cutting down man after man. He was skilled at fighting and knew almost every man’s weakness. They all trained him, him being the youngest recruit, and even though he was better than all of them he used his young age and played down his skill in training so they would underestimate him. His blades cut into the flesh easily and men kept dying. It was only when Damian let out the loud, ear shattering Lion’s roar did everyone freeze. “ENOUGH!” Damian roared with flames in his eyes. James hid in a patch of tall grass, squatting close to the ground and listening closely.
“You know I hate killing my own so I will give you one more chance. Hand her over and we’ll forget this happened.” James watched Damian’s eyes scan the grounds looking for him. By now James knew this night would never be forgotten with how many men they lost, most by his own hand. Damian would torture and lock him up if he were to go back now and James has had enough. Getting on his belly, he began crawling away, even though he desperately wanted to get the last word in. “This isn’t over James! We will find you and when we do you’re dead.” James paused, holding his breath as he heard horse hooves come close to him. He closed his eyes and prayed for invisibility while he stayed motionless. He didn’t dare breath until he counted slowly to ten, twice. Opening his eyes, James carefully sat up and scanned the area. He didn’t move from his spot for another count of ten and when nothing happen he took off running to where he left Eliora. He prayed to the Gods that she was still there.
“Eliora… Eliora, wake up. Eliora…”
She heard a voice that sound far away and even though it called to her, she felt safe and warm where she was and she didn’t want to leave.
Arriving at the oak tree, James found Eliora unconscious, fear slowly rising in his throat. He could tell her leg was covered in fresh blood and while everything told him not to, James gently moved her out from the tree and laid her on the ground. He wanted to shake her, scream at the top of his lungs to wake up. Instead, James sat by her quietly, holding her cold, limp hand. “Eliora… Eliora.” He said over and over until the name was burned into his head. He wondered how his attachment grew to be so strong after seeing her for the first time tonight. He never thought he could love another human being after being brought up by cruel and merciless people. The Lion’s Scythe was all he ever knew and they taught him how to be cold and heartless, to feel nothing and to be disconnected from everything. That’s how good assassins were made. But now, James thought he fooled himself all those years into believe he was like that, because after seeing Eliora it seemed like something was unlocked inside of him, the key finally being turned. Seeing Eliora’s sparkling green eyes opened a new window for him, and almost instantly he realized that this was what he had been waiting for and everything in his body told him to protect this girl despite the consequences he’d have to face.
But now none of that mattered.
Eliora was gone.
Being pulled from the dark depths of sleep, Eliora blinked her eyes open to sun streaming in from the windows. She squinted and closed them again, her head pounding while a dull throb pulsed in her leg. She wanted to sit up, but the effort felt out of her reach. Blinking her eyes open again she saw a plump woman wearing all white, looking down on her. “That was a close call, Miss. When he brought you in I thought for sure you were gone from the amount of blood on you.” Confused, Eliora tried sitting up again and this time succeed. Her head and limbs felt heavy but she kept herself up, looking around. She didn’t know where she was or how she got here, but no longer did she wear her blue and green gown or her masquerade mask. She opened her mouth to speak but the only thing that came out was a jumble of words that she herself didn’t understand. “Now, now dear, the pain medication will hinder you for a while longer. It’s best if you just try and get some rest.” The kind woman gently pushed her back onto the bed, the soft pillow welcoming her head. The woman left, leaving Eliora to her thoughts.
Eliora weaved in and out of sleep, broken images coming and going in her dreams. The one thing she clearly remembers in every dream is strikingly cold blue eyes. They kept reoccurring and when she opened her eyes again they stared above her, attached to a masked figure. “Eliora, my sweet” The masked figure smiled. She tried speaking again but her words were jumbled which got her a small chuckle “You are safe and we will be together again. I promise.” The man reached down and kissed her softly on the lips. The smell of mint reached her and she breathed in deeply.
Eliora blinked and found herself alone. Her thoughts were blank but a feeling of content washed over her, as if her problems could be put on hold for a while. She felt relaxed and light, wondering if it was from the pain meds. Her vision darkened and even as she tried blinking the darkness away, startling blue eyes glowed and called to her, allowing her to let go and get lost in her dreams to be with the man they belonged to.