"Of course," she whispered, a smile touching her full, soft lips.
I stood back to get a better view of the woman who stood proudly in front of me. She was tall and strikingly beautiful, the sunlight, an alchemist in its own right, transforming her auburn hair into strands of spun gold. She smiled as I gazed at her, but it was a smile that never reached her glittering sapphire eyes.
The beast that stood beside her stamped a massive paw impatiently. I turned to stare at the fabulous creature, which would have dwarfed my seventeen-hand high stallion. Its muscles were taut and rippled as it shook itself, and graceful feathered wings sprouted from its feline body. White scars streaked its sides, half hidden by the golden fur. Griffins were becoming increasingly rare, and almost no one would dare to mistreat one.
She watched me examine the scars and broke in smoothly, "I rescued him from his previous owner, Lord Jorec." I nodded, assured. The lord was known for his devious mind and cruel actions. I doubted that he would ever hesitate in hurting an animal, even a creature as noble and revered as a griffin.
"I'll meet you two days from now," she murmured, and mounted her steed. With a smooth flapping of its wings, it soared into the horizon.
I grinned. The brainless fool had been easily deceived. Escaping, for that is what it was, on my griffin had been no task at all. I was still amazed at how easily looks can deceive, how words can betray. Deron had listened far too much to his trusting heart, and he would be the one who would suffer.
Now I was off to Lord Jorec himself, a man so corrupted by his lust for power that he would never see past my façade. It was a pattern I had established over the years, and I was quite accustomed to it. I gained the trust of the people I needed, the people who would give me what I needed. Then I betrayed them, so subtly sometimes the victims would never guess who was the cause of their misfortune. When I was done with them, had no more use for them, I disappeared, until the name Aria Kaelar melted away for some, until my name was just a bad memory for others.
Aden. The country had ruined me. Aden had killed me, crushed my soul until it was beyond repair. And now I was here to exact my revenge, as I had done countless other times. Aden's assassin was here to strike again.
I laughed aloud, triumphant, filled with the exhilaration of flight, and the confidence that I would succeed. I had been successful the other times, why would this time be any different? On my heels were sparkling silver spurs, and still smiling to myself, I jammed them into the griffin's sides, and it leapt forward, its harsh, pain-filled cry resonating in the sunset, the sun streaking the horizon with blood red, a sacrifice to the sky.
I mulled over my thoughts. The lady Aria was beautiful, courteous, and kind. The wealthy young woman had appeared from nowhere, mixing herself with the country's most elite and powerful people.
But there was something wrong. I frowned. Something about her demeanor, perhaps… it just didn't seem sincere. I shook my head. How could I doubt the woman, who, dripping with wealth, helped many of Aden's orphans? Of course she was sincere…
And she would meet me in two days, to talk about Aden's political standing, and Lord Jorec. Jorec. I personally thought that he had ruined the country, and that he was one of the many reasons our country was falling apart. I had realized that Aria believed the same, and we planned to meet, and hopefully influence our monarch into disciplining his lord.
I counted down the days until I would meet with Aria.
The griffin, its sides streaming crimson blood, landed gently on the lush green lawn of Lord Jorec. The guards at the gate nodded to me, and I smiled back. A footman hurried to usher me into the great mansion. The butler showed me into the parlor, saying, "Miss Kaelar, Lord Jorec will be with you shortly." I disliked Lord Jorec immensely, but he seemed infatuated with me, or at least, the power I brought him, and the money. I sat, immersed in my thoughts, until the magnificent mahogany doors swept open.
"Lady Aria, how pleased I am to see you," Lord Jorec drawled, his oily voice rising with glee. "I am delighted you have taken up my offer to visit me at my humble abode." He lifted one hand, lean and muscular like the rest of his body. Black fire shot from his fingers, locking the door from the inside. "To keep the servants away," he explained.
"Of course, Lord Jorec, how could I stay away from you?" I purred, batting my long eyelashes, though my sapphire eyes must have shone with contempt.
He didn't seem to notice. His beady black eyes swept my body, and I tried not to shudder under the scrutiny of his searching gaze. "Do you love me, Aria Kaelar? Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
I knew my time had come. He, with his power-hungry heart, had allowed himself to trust me, even lust after me.
I reached under my cloak and stepped toward him, as he leaned toward me. I clapped one hand over his mouth, pressing the cold blade of a long dagger against his throat. His eyes bulged with fear, and I knew that under all his airs, he was a coward. In one smooth gesture, I plunged the dagger into his breast. He had time for one gurgle before he fell silently to the floor.
I brushed myself off to rid my body of his essence. The bloodstained dagger was thrown next to Jorec's body, then I went to the door. Touching the knob with one finger, it shone with a blue light, then the lord's magic faded. I watched the firelight dancing off the blade and the corpse beside it, and smiled with satisfaction.
Screaming with all my might, I tried to make my face look horrified, my eyes staring at the corpse on the floor. Servants hurried in, and with one glance at the object my shaking finger was pointing to, crowded around the room.
Shakily I said, almost incoherently, "We were talking… and-and then a man crept in… plunged the dagger into his chest…"
The butler shook me. "My lady! My lady! Are you all right?" I nodded as if dazed, and whispered, "Perhaps I ought to go home.
The butler agreed. "You've suffered a massive shock." He escorted me to the door, and aided me in mounting the griffin.
With a surge of its powerful wings, we were in the air, a surge of adrenaline sweeping through me. I had succeeded once again. And in the milling of the servants at the manor, no one noticed that I had left with a heavy bag under my cloak. The gold in the bag was worth more than a servant's year's pay.
I waited in the café that Aria and I had planned to meet. The bell on the door rang, and I turned to see Aria walking in. The aquamarine dress she wore accented her stunning eyes and slim figure, and her auburn hair flowed in a cascade down her back. All eyes were on her, and I could tell she reveled in the attention.
"You've heard of Lord Jorec's murder, Deron?" her melodious voice asked me, and I nodded. Who hadn't heard of the death?
"Well," she continued, and venom entered her voice. She murmured sweetly, "I killed him."
I stared at her, aghast. The declaration had no emotion whatsoever. No regret, no guilt, not even fear was in that voice. Just malice and steel, cold as ice, with a hint of satisfaction. I waited, shocked, for this horrible joke to end. I waited for a statement that would tell me it wasn't true. I wondered how she could make such a joke. Then I saw her eyes. The sapphire orbs were full of contempt, and in that moment, I knew it was true. She wasn't lying.
She laughed, a cold, hard laugh, eyes glittering, and left. I saw her leave on her griffin, and in that exit, silver spurs shone in the golden rays of the sun, a tribute to her cruelty.
"Stop that woman!" I shouted hoarsely, but it was too late. She was gone, the menace, the demon in human form known as Aria Kaelar. I had aided her. I had helped her find shelter and had helped her fit in the elite groups of Aden. I showered her with gifts, anything she requested, overwhelmed by the remarkable generosity and kind nature of the young woman. I had supported that monster, that murderer.
How trusting human nature is, how easy to deceive. I flew to the very borders of Aden, where I was sure no one had heard the name Aria Kaelar, and where I was sure I would meet some lord who needed my help.
And I did. The lords were all the same, easily won over by a bit of femininity and a few soft words. I met Lord Gavol, young and handsome, blond hair like a golden halo around his head. All I needed to do was lower my lashes demurely and gaze at him from underneath them, and I'd won him over. I killed heartlessly, and I knew there were people who thought I didn't have a heart. I agreed with them. Aden had taken my heart, my soul, and crushed them, shattering my dreams, until all that was left of them were grains of sand, blowing away in the wind. Where others saw the light of hope, I saw only gloom and darkness.
I lived, a shell of what I had been before. I needed to make Aden pay.
Revenge is sweet…