They had taken her. At a grudgingly slow pace, Kiyana had fought the guards every step of the way into the dungeons. They had to clench her mouth shut just to quiet her screams of denial. And now she sat, mouth gagged and hands chained behind her back on the floor of the political prison. All Kiyana's clothes had been ripped from her body and she only had a thin robe to cover her entire body. The arrangement wouldn't be half as bad if it wasn't cold as winter in the cell. What a place for royalty. But it was unlikely she was even regarded as human now. Kiyana didn't even concern herself as human. The only thing worse than being in an isolated prison alone was being in an isolated prison with Luras.
The guard captain had been beaten bloody by the shadows, somehow making it out with a few scars to show for it. The most noticeable was a wound right across the center of his face, slashing open his nose. Kiyana knew he wouldn't dare desire to wed her for power anymore, none the less yearn for a bride of her physique. Not when having such a mate could tear him apart in the process. If only she could use her hands—Kiyana didn't need magic to strangle a man.
"You're a cold-blooded murderer now, how does it feel?" Luras looked down on her, his blonde hair coated in a layer of blood. It wasn't his own, she could guess that much. After she didn't attempt to reply, he reached down and unhinged the muzzle from her jaw. It was a sweet release once the muscles in her mouth could finally relax.
"It feels bloody brilliant." Kiyana spit, laying her head on the floor. At her reply, Luras kicked her up on the top of her forehead and placed the ball of his foot on the side of her neck. "Of all people, I expected you would know the feeling."
"I might as well end you right now," he pressed down on the bone. With enough pressure, Luras could crush it. The princess found it getting harder and harder to breathe as the new captain applied more and more weight to his leg.
"Someone as-" Kiyana gasped for air and continued, a growl in her voice, "spineless as you-" he pushed his foot down harder, "couldn't possibly do that."
"You think I—you really think I wouldn't?"
"Go ahead bitch, make my day." Kiyana felt him grind his heel into her skin. She should have felt guilty for all the lives she had ended, if not guilt then something along those lines. But that emotion had been driven from her completely. The princess' heart was nothing but a barren wasteland of detestation and fury, and she loved it.
"I took you for a princess Kiyana. A dislikeable one, but a princess all the same." Luras sighed, relaxing his boot a bit. "But now, with every breath, you dishonor your kin."
"Did the king and queen send you on this little spiel in hopes I will pray for my life on my knees? You can't shake that messenger boy reputation can you?" Kiyana kicked the metal muzzle aside with her foot. Trembling with rage, Luras brought his fist upon her face. Once, twice, and then a third time. He beat her cheekbones and ripped the tissue on her lips, causing them to swell. Kiyana did not cry out or change face. She would wear those bruises once they formed like medals. With fingers brushing her cheek, the princess growled deep within her throat.
"Speak again and I'll show you how lucky you got." It was clear why he was here now. The council wanted to execute her as soon as possible and Luras was getting his hits in while she was subdued by the chains. But he already looked done with her and turned to leave. As soon as his hand touched the door, Kiyana spit out.
"Leaving so soon? I was just about to poison the tea." The most she could do was push him to the limit, there was no reason to hold her tongue. If she was going to die anyway, might as well spit the vilest venom of all.
"I will hear no more of your voice Kiyana, even if I have to rip your throat out." Luras whipped around, grabbing a clump of her hair in his fists.
"Admit it, you're a write-off of a human. Useless, you only follow the will of the powerful-"He cut her off by slamming her head into the hilt of his sword. Luras' face flushed with rage as he kept hitting her with the handle, not pausing in between other than to wallow in his newfound superiority. Blood trickled from wounds at the top of her hairline, dripping through her eyes and onto her lips.
"You were saying?" Luras snickered, his face fixed in a smirk. "Not so beautiful now are you princess Kiyana." Her vision was hazed by red as the liquid covered her skin. Pain thudded in her head, refusing to leave her alone. The princess drew her tongue over her cut lips, feeling the swelling already beginning to take into effect.
"Beauty has never been my most valuable asset anyway." She could feel her voice going faint. The pain in her throat felt like fire burning from inside her, scorching her lungs. Attractiveness meant nothing, not when the edge of a sword was an inch away from driving through flesh and bone.
"That's debatable." A bell tolled from outside, echoing down into the chambers. Luras' smile got wider. "Look at that, soon enough you're beauty will be splattered on the ground, pecked at by the crows."
"Sounds lovely." She just grinned half-heartedly. Luras grabbed her bound wrists and reached for the muzzle that had been discarded on the ground. As he pulled her to her feet to mount the collar, Kiyana draped her hands over her knees. Her limbs were shaky and ached with every movement.
"Hurry up, people are waiting for your last appearance." Luras snapped the muzzle onto her jaw, locking it shut. As soon as he got his hands on the chains around her, the captain didn't hesitate to yank her through the door into the hallway. Another guard had assembled three others by the corridor leading to the bathing chambers. She recognized Solin, Mikal, and—
So he hadn't made it out. The half-Kronovese glared at her through narrowed eyes as Luras snapped her link of chains to the others. Kiyana wouldn't protest to sharing the spotlight of death with the others, though a spectacle had likely been made of the short-lived execution. The princess reached up to rub the tender skin on the edges of her face where Luras had struck her. Why had her shadows discarded her? But even if they could defend her, Kiyana had a sense that death was coming to claim her today. She also could almost feel its gaze on her skin, waiting patiently for the ligaments of her neck to snap beneath the silver ax.
Luras walked alongside the other guards as they brought the four to the washroom. Kiyana was led quietly to a separate room by a soft-spoken female servant. For the entire time, she was being paraded around, the princess kept her eyes on the ground. The girl laid her face up on a stiff wooden table before removing the only thing covering her body. Kiyana winced as she ran a wet towel over her ash-dirty skin, over every scar and bruise without a word.
She must have laid there for an hour just letting the servant girl slather her in water and polish the layers of soot that had settled on her. Kiyana might have thanked her for being kind about how much pressure she applied to the injured areas of flesh, but the muzzle on her jaw held tight. The princess didn't fail to notice how long her eyes lingered on the strips of white flesh that littered her pelt. She seemed bright enough not to stare for too long, though because as soon as she noticed Kiyana, the servant looked away.
"May I, Your Grace?" She motioned to her hair which was splayed out like a flowing ocean of silver and ash. Kiyana nodded as best she could, it was surprising that the servant even showed a trace of respect to her. Your Grace. What if Alaysha was there? What if they made the entire city watch? If Kiyana had to give up before her friend, she didn't know if she could keep the twistedly confident façade. The servant covered her body back with the cloth before dividing her hair into sections.
"I know you don't deserve this." The girl murmured while she ran a brush through Kiyana's hair. But she did, and Kiyana would embrace every second of pain from now on. The princess would own every bit of suffering like it was the only thing keeping her alive. "I watched what you did on the beach, I watched the captain kill the wolf." The princess tensed as the brush hit a knot of hair. There was a pause where Kiyana knew that the servant girl had abandoned the process of smoothing out her hair, but the answer to what she was doing came when the muzzle snapped off and fell to the ground with a clattering sound.
"What-what's your name?" She said with a hoarse voice, her near nakedness forgotten. The girl trembled as she turned her head, meeting her eyes. Now that Kiyana could see her clearly, the servant struck her as the youngest the princess had ever seen within the castle walls. Locks of thick brown hair rested at the girl's waist and framed her not yet matured face. Her skin was well tanned and clear, save for birthmarks splotched on her neck. "Well go on, I don't have much time left."
"I apologize, Your Grace, a royal has never asked anything like that of me before." She took a breath. "My mother calls me Vyselliah, but the council only refer to me as Vy. It pleases them when I present myself with a shorter name, so I assume you would refer to me as such too." Vyselliah looked around the age of fourteen, just barely old enough to be sold to work at the castle. Her voice could only be described as the feeling of running fingers along the finest silk, straight from the Kronovese import companies. The animal race didn't have a very civil way of life, but they could make clothes like nobody had ever seen. Unfortunately, they didn't need that skill—fur was more than sufficient.
"Well Vyselliah," Kiyana tested the name on her tongue, ignoring the cold on her flesh. "Vyselliah, Vyselliah. That isn't a name in common culture is it?"
"No Your Grace, it isn't." The girl's eyes reflected the ferocity and color of the ocean in high tide.
"You look like you're from the colonies, your features are very striking." She reached out and ran a finger over Vyselliah's face. The words flowed from her mouth like water down rocks. Alaysha was from the colonies, this girl was like Alaysha. "Let me tell you something. When you get old enough to win your own freedom, get away from this place and never look back."
"Why would you suggest such a thing Your Grace?"
"Because there is so much more than this castle, it will be the ruin of you if you stay."
"Will His Grace be a fair ruler?"
"Tavion will-"Kiyana might have lied, just to give Vyselliah something to believe in. But a lie would only worsen her situation later. "Maybe." The girl began to brush her hair again, this time with more liveliness. When was the last time anyone had spoken to her?
"Do you live in the castle Vyselliah?"
"Every day, every night. The older women taught me how to speak common tongue, like the royals here."
"You're very good at it," it was odd that the girl had witnessed the display of magic and not shriveled back in fear. With such things being a general taboo, it would seem like every servant would cower at the very sight of here.
"Thank you, Your Grace." She simply said, running a finger through her hair to check the tangles.
"You mustn't call me that." Kiyana rose her voice slightly to capture the girl's attention. "Call me Kiyana." Vyselliah's face went red.
"You are the princess, I cannot speak without respect."
"I asked you to call me Kiyana didn't I?"
The servant girl's eyes flickered in understanding before she noticed a figure in the doorway.
"Your conversation is greatly appreciated, but I must finish preparing you." Vyselliah motioned for her to lay back down. It was Luras who had appeared in the entrance to the bathing chamber.
"Why did you remove her muzzle?" He stepped in, a half-snarl fixed on his face. It wasn't really a question, not when it came from the captain. What Luras really wanted was a reason to punish the girl, through and through.
"It was interfering with my work, I apologize Captain." Vyselliah's voice shuddered.
"Your work is done," he pushed her aside like a vine. "Get up Kiyana."
"Don't harm her." Kiyana hissed under her breath. If any injury were to befall the girl—it wouldn't matter. Nothing would happen in the long run, this girl's fate didn't affect the systems of Keshos in any way. But the thought of her being the cause of another death didn't set well in Kiyana's mind.
"No promises." Luras flicked his wrist and Vyselliah moved as silently as a shadow out of the room. Once she had left, the captain studied her with a critical gaze. It reminded Kiyana of Tavion, about all the dresses he had made her try on. "But that girl does work miracles. She can make a monster like you look like the most irresistible creature in Keshos." Kiyana followed his gaze as it looked over her figure that was outlined by the nearly translucent cloth. The princess had gotten used to these hateful-yet-desiring looks from Luras, but that didn't mean it was any less repulsive.
"Have you no compassion?" Kiyana slipped off the table and moved towards a robe that had been draped over the edge of the empty water basin. It was as if the girl had been a ray of light into the dark cloak of shadow that had been suppressed once again. The youth and innocence that still remained on Vyselliah's face gave her a hint of empathy for her situation. Luras smelled of dried blood and herbs, way too many herbs.
"I have no compassion for those who find time to converse with murderers like friends." He watched her as she laced the new robe on and pulled her hair to the side. If there was any magnificence to her new garb, the princess didn't care enough to notice. The expression on Luras' face gave away everything she needed to know anyway. Kiyana could feel dread stirring in the pit of her stomach as he opened his mouth once more. "Without further ado, shall we head to your last debut in the public?" Last debut—Kiyana wasn't so sure she had ever really had a first. She had always been so manipulated by the council that no one ever heard what she thought, what she really needed to say.
"Couldn't be more thrilled." Her voice went dull. There was no meaning to keeping up any kind of emotion anymore. Alaysha was bound to be watching her, watching as the blade of the ax, fell down onto her neck. Kiyana could only beg that her friend didn't enjoy the display. Luras led her down a side hallway to avoid the rush of medics carrying the dead and dying in and out of the castle in a feverish mission—a hopeless pursuit.
"Do not sound so tense Kiyana, I'm sure it will be swift and painless just as always." He said in a cheerful tone, just like one would say good morning. It sounded exactly like Luras to ensure that the blade was dulled right before she stepped up to the platform. Slow and excruciating, with the possibility of watching her life bleed out before her eyes as the paralysis of the injury slowly taking over her entire body and turning it to stone. Like always.
"Have you ever been beheaded?" Kiyana's eyelids flickered down. Death was the unknown, and such a thing frightened her more than it ever had now that it was so close. It destroyed worlds, tore apart lives, and still remained unsolved. Luras had most likely witnessed more than several executions, but Kiyana could bet her life that none of them would be overdramatized as much as this one. Mostly because there wasn't much life to bargain with.
"That is absurd of course not-"
"Then how can you be sure?" She stopped as he held out his arm in front of her, sliding in her way.
"Because I won't fail to defeat you this time." Luras hardened his gaze and took a wavering step forward. Kiyana felt her joints frozen in place as the captain rose a hand to her unchained jaw. "You wouldn't want a slow death, would you?"
"It would only be fitting," Kiyana stiffened her neck as Luras didn't stop coming closer.
"You know what would be fitting?" He said, his nose now just a finger nail away from hers. Kiyana wanted to snap out, to bite him like the animal they had taken her for. The blonde captain's jaw shifted before he dug his teeth into a soft part of her neck. It hurt, it hurt so much that the princess knew he was grasping at straws on ways he could mutilate her before the execution without marring Vyselliah's work. Kiyana instinctively jabbed at the area under the outline of his chin, holding her fingers there until Luras tore flesh from her neck.
"Explain yourself or no gods will be able to save you." The princess gripped him by the upper throat, ignoring the blood that now spilled from the torn skin.
"Consider it a going away gift, one disgrace to another." Luras let out quick gasps of air as his breath grew short. "You taste like fire and death, nothing more than I expected." The captain licked all traces of blood from his lips when Kiyana finally let him breathe normally again. It was no use to kill him, no use to add another name to the list of the dead even when he deserved it so badly. Luras would meet his end soon enough, but it wouldn't be by her hand. It was hard enough to look into the eyes of the man that had cut Reyani's life short and not rip his heart out, but some of Kiyana retained her moral fiber.
"And you thought I was the one who needed a muzzle."
A horn sounded from outside and Luras took hold of her wrist, still licking the rim of his mouth. Attempting escape was futile, even Kiyana had given up on it. A makeshift platform had been set up right in front of the gates, right in front of the new coating of ash. The guards had possibly rounded up every resident of the city by the looks of it.
It was just barely morning when Kiyana was lined up beside Stephas, Solin, and Mikal. An announcer shouted their charges in a droningly monotone voice before stepping off and vanishing from sight. During the speech, the princess had picked up on the fact that she was no longer considered a Desmarias by legal affairs, basically stripped of her royal status. And that she had been charged with murder of an unidentified number of people using magic—which was plain to see. No longer a Desmarias. The name hadn't done anything for her in terms of treatment by the king and queen, losing it now wasn't much of a bother. It actually felt freeing in a way, to never have to refer to herself with any other name then Kiyana. Upon examining the faces of the people beside her, the princess' eyes finally rested on the Nytteot prince. His black pupils had fixed on a certain face in the mass of people, a certain group really.
Stephas looked in the same direction, only wavering when he thought one of the guards glanced his way. Then it clicked in Kiyana's head. There were rebels, here, among the crowd who intended to stop it. Not for her of course, no one favored her, but for Stephas and the traitorous prince. Kiyana ripped her eyes from the two men beside her and darted around into the crowd. Perched up on a stallion, she saw her brother beside the king and queen. Tavion had bandages stretching across the entire left side of his face, not to mention torso. Why couldn't I protect you? A question that never had a good answer. The ice Venefica had struck him hard. There was no pity in Tavion's face at first glance, but Kiyana knew where to look.
It was tearing him up inside to watch this, and it pained her to know that if she had just controlled herself a little bit better, maybe this wouldn't be the way it was. Then she remembered what Luras had done and stopped blaming herself. It should be Luras up on the platform, about to die in front of a country he barely even cared about in the first place. The image in her mind of her brother painted the picture of a cruel monarch, but Tavion was so much more. Kiyana cared about her brother too much to leave him to the throne alone. Because even though they were of different breeds by law, Tavion had been there, pushing her to her limit as both an ally and an enemy. Skimming over the king and queen, Kiyana scanned the group of council members. There would be nothing to gain from seeing how the rulers reacted, they did care, and neither did she.
Luras was there too, grinning like a maniac and licking his lips continuously still as if the taste of her still remained. If only she would have wiped that eternally stupid look of his face before she regretted it. But the one thing that did give her satisfaction was that long gash across his face that would never heal. A reminder perhaps, of all the history they had.
Instead of lingering on the captain any longer, Kiyana looked wistfully to the sea she had gazed upon every single day of her life. Bodies had been thrown over onto the beach and now floated like clumps of seaweed in the dark blue waters until the current pulled them under. All of them were nameless faces erased by her magic in the blink of an eye. She strained herself to picture what it had looked like before the battle, but that world was gone just like their lives.
"First on the block, Kiyana of the Shadow." Another member of the council spoke up, pushing his glasses onto the bridge of his nose. That was her name now, was it? Kiyana didn't bother to express her disgust as someone shoved her up to the metal block. Blood still stained it from its last victim, the last life it took hadn't been long ago by the looks of it. How many people would die before Indignor fell to its knees? There was no number so high.
Brushing her hair out of the way, Kiyana of the Shadow calmly knelt down, placing her neck onto the cold surface. Inside, she was as peaceful as a river frozen by ice. The only problem was that the layer of frozen water would shatter at the slightest touch. The former princess let one tear escape her eyes. A tear for Reyani, for Lylah, for Vyselliah, and most of all, the Keshos that would be reborn out of the boiling war. Rose-gold sunlight shone on her face as the great bright star peeked out from beneath its cloak of midnight.
Out of the corner of her eye, Kiyana could see Alaysha just barely in the mess. The look on her friend's face was everything she had hoped to see. The emotions she could pick up consisted most prominently of grief, despair, and rage. All the things that made both of them strong. Alaysha was ready to watch her die with a heavy heart and a silent tongue, just as a warrior should. And Kiyana prepared to die, settling the knots in her gut, just as a warrior should.
The crowds went silent as the ax was drawn from its place and raised above the former princess's head. Black-winged crows and vultures had perched themselves on the spikes of the castle gates, awaiting the blood to be spilled. As soon as that ax fell, they would dine on her corpse. In their eyes, Kiyana could almost see Death's arms outstretched, beckoning for her to join him. But even in knowing this, she was not afraid.
Because Death, no matter how inviting, would not claim Kiyana of the Shadow today.