The girl did not speak, even after I tried to coerce her, so I took her to be in a state similar to how Min had been when I first met her. As I left the carriage and walked in, carrying the naked girl, I received extremely shocked looks from all the guards. Seeing a princess carrying a naked ten-year-old girl as she walked into the castle would alarm anyone. Had I been wearing a mask, they might have ignored it, but without it, the rumors would spread quickly.
I didn’t head to my own room though. I didn’t know how important this sacrifice was to this Harvest, but I didn’t have the time to screw around. If Julian came right back, he might turn around and take the girl from me. There was only one place I could think to go for safety. It was the last place I wanted to go, but no one else came to mind.
I banged on the door, and a minute later, it opened, revealing the fourth prince scratching his head. He was still wearing the clothing he was wearing earlier that evening although it looked worn and wrinkled now. He started to give me a dark look, but then his eyes registered that I was naked and carrying someone who was also naked. His eyes turned to complete shock.
“Wha-“ He started, then his eyes seemed to tighten. “Come in.”
He moved aside, and I immediately moved into his room, putting the cold, naked girl on his bed and covering her with warm sheets. He brought out clothing that was similar to the clothing I familiarized myself with on the journey to the castle. It was much too big to fit on the little girl, but I managed anyway. While I dressed myself and the girl, he started a fire, and then brewed some tea, bringing it over to me without asking any questions. As I drank and warmed myself up, he finally opened his mouth.
“Who is she?”
“The sacrifice,” When he started to wear a confused expression, I added, “for the Harvest.”
He nodded slowly although he still didn’t look completely sure. “So… she was Julian’s?”
“Julian’s, although it was your father who was ready to rape her,” I said a little harsher than I intended.
He winced at the words as if it was a slap in the face. “That is… and you came to me?”
“We need to protect her!” I snapped. “We need to get her out of the city and somewhere safe.”
“We?” Devon glanced worriedly at me as I sat on the edge of the bed and patted the girl’s head, although she had already fallen asleep almost as soon as she got warm. “But father…”
“Your father?” I barely said it without my lips peeling back. “Who the hell cares about your father?”
“Well, if this is his doing then I can’t…” Devon started.
“Can’t?” I stood up, then turned to pick up the child. “Coming here was a mistake.”
“Wait!” Devon spoke up. “It’s just a lot to take in, I’m trying to figure out-“
“You’re just a coward!” I knew I came here suddenly and made demands on him, but I still couldn’t stop the anger. “You know the kinds of things they do at those parties, but you just pretended you didn’t notice. What about the people you represent? Your citizens? I thought of anyone, you’d be the one to care… but you’d rather hide behind an illusion than face reality.”
He looked like he had been punched in the gut, turning away as an indescribable look appeared on his face. Once again, I was treating him unfairly, but I was beyond caring. I picked the girl up carefully and turned to leave. As I made it to the door, he blocked my path with an arm.
“I’ll help!” He said with a panicked voice, then took a breath and relaxed his pose, removing his arm, “I’ll help… I’ll help you with this girl. But afterward, I need to know what happened.”
I let out a sigh of relief. I was only half prepared to walk out that door. I really didn’t know what I’d do if he didn’t help me. I supposed I could run to Reinhart, possibly get her out of the castle following his secret path. However, I doubted he’d take her off my hands, and if I abandoned the castle myself, with Nova at the reins, I’d be as good as dead.
“Alright then, what will we do?” I asked.
“You don’t have a plan?” He said in surprise, then mumbled something to himself while shaking his head.
The girl had woken back up at this point and now she was clinging to my shirt, trying to take comfort in my body. I guess, at this point, she had come to the realization that I was protecting her. At the very least, I was glad that she wasn’t still scared of me. A man approached my side who wasn’t Devon and I nearly let out a shout.
When I turned to look at him. The man had a similar build and appearance to Devon, except that his face had a shadowy look. I had nearly punched him, but a moment later, I recognized it for what it was.
“Your… ninja clones?”
Devon shrugged shyly. “Ah, well, it seems like it’d be best to move quickly.”
He moved over to his nightstand, opened a drawer, and pulled out a baggy. I took in a breath as I recalled the bags of Qetesh coins I had left behind, but this bag seemed to contain real gold. He reached out and his clone took it from his hands. Then, Devon turned to me and nodded.
“Give the illusion the girl.”
I stared doubtfully at the shadow creature as it reached out its hands. However, without coming up with any better option, I handed her over. The girl did not seem to resist although she did look a bit afraid as the man picked her up. I looked on anxiously as the shadow creature held her. Devon seemed to stare blankly at the shadow creature for some time.
“Girl, do you have a family to return to?” Devon asked.
The girl shook her head no, and he nodded and continued to stare at the shadow creature. Meanwhile, I could only feel sadness for the girl who had no one. These were not the kinds of things a ten-year-old girl should be thinking about. After a minute or two passed with nothing happening, I became restless.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m ordering the clone. He’ll take the girl out of here through a secret entrance in Reinhart’s tower. His orders will be to buy her clothing, protect her, and to find her a home in one of the neighboring towns. With the amount of money I gave him, there would be plenty of families willing to take her. And… I think that should just about do it.”
A moment later, the shadow creature gave a nod like Devon had said something, then turned around with the girl in his arm. He moved to the window and jumped out. I let out a cry of surprise and ran to the window. Looking out, I saw that the creature had skillfully grabbed onto the window ledge and was now climbing down deftly while holding onto the girl. He moved quickly, and within a minute, he had climbed down the two stories and was running off into the dark.
I gave the girl a wave as she looked up at me one last time before disappearing into the darkness. A moment later, I dropped my hand, feeling empty inside. I had just given up everything for that girl, and in an instant, I had given her up for the mere promise of protection. It felt like the girl in the dungeon all over again. I felt like a coward, so quick to pass the responsibility to someone else. Perhaps my mother was right, I started trouble but never liked to face the consequences.
Then I heard a thump behind me and turned to find Devon had collapsed to the floor. I ran over to him, trying to help him up although it seemed like he could no longer stand. I got him into the bed and he gave me an apologetic look.
“I’m sorry, I wanted the illusion to have as many appropriate commands as possible. Once he leaves, I no longer know what he does, so I wanted him to be prepared for as many possibilities as I can predict. However, it takes a lot out of me. Until the illusion spell is finished, I’m little more than an invalid. On the other hand, he’ll have the ability to keep her safe. He’s been programmed to write me a letter when the mission is complete.”
I gave a nod cautiously, and after a moment I spoke up, “Thank you… I don’t know how I’ll be able to repay you, especially after earlier…”
He turned his head away with a blush. “That was… I woke up with the carriage already halfway back to the castle. I didn’t know you had the light magic sleep spell, but I got the message. What happened between us…”
“My mask broke,” I said out loud, changing the topic in an instant as his eyes widened. “Your father… struck me, and it broke in front of everyone.”
Devon gave a nod after a few moments of silence. “I noticed that you have a bruise on your cheek, I wanted to ask…”
I raised my hand up to my cheek. It hurt a little now that he mentioned it, but with Rough Rider equipped, I hadn’t noticed the pain much at all.
“I… just saw that girl… and the King… and I couldn’t take it anymore.” My body tensed and I tightened my fist, trying to hold on to the anger I felt at that moment, but right then all I felt was tired and scared.
“You did the right thing,” Devon said. “For what it is worth, you’re a braver person than me.”
I let out a small laugh. “I don’t feel brave.”
Devon gave me a long stare. “It’s true, Cornelia, I’ve admired you for some time. I’ve never met anyone as fearless as you.”
“It only seems to get me in trouble.” I sighed.
He gave an affectionate smile. “That might be true, but either way.”
I gave him a shake of my head and let out a breath. “What do I do now?”
“For now? Head back to your room. This kind of thing shouldn’t be able to hurt a princess too badly. I’ll support you either way. If Julian tries anything funny, come to me.”
I gave a nod, and after a few more minutes, I bid him farewell and headed back to my room. Min was waiting up for me, and I gave her an abridged version of what I had seen that night. I focused more on the underground room and the girl I protected. Min patted my head and held me although I didn’t feel like crying tonight.
“Mm… is that so?” I said nonchalantly.
These days, it was difficult for me to see myself as a good person. I lived in a world that treated sex as taboo, and even though I never really saw it that way, the way society raised me was hard to resist. Deep down, I saw my own sexual desire as bad. As a woman who bounced around from man to man, indulging in my own sexual satisfaction, somewhere along those lines I had started to see myself as, perhaps not evil, but certainly morally ambiguous.
However, those were the thoughts of a culture that had its own issues. I grew up in a culture that glorified violence and would treat sex like something sacred. Homophobia, slut-shaming, and a fear of any sexual act outside of the vanilla sex created a rigid culture. Even as they tried to break from the mold, certain ideas such as monogamy took deep root. To sit outside the standard was frowned on at best, flat out shunned at worst.
As I considered that seemingly simple question of whether I was a good person, I cuddled with Min. After the long previous night, I was barely able to sleep. My naps were fitful, and Min did everything she could to soothe me from rubbing my back to putting a cold compress on my head. However, I still couldn’t get the previous night’s events out of my head. She had dressed me and cleaned my body, never prying more into what I had done. Of course, I was afraid of what would happen next. It was really only my fear of Nova’s death curse that kept me from fleeing the castle that very night, but morning came despite my protests.
Although I would have stayed in my bed the entire day, staring at the ceiling in a sleepless daze, sometime around noon, there was a pounding on the door. Min went to answer it, but I waved her away. It was time that I faced the consequences of my actions. As I stood up, wearing the nightgown Min had changed me to the previous night, I went to answer the door. I had expected guards to be on the other side, but instead, it was just one man.
Julian pushed his way into my room without asking. He immediately began pacing back and forth several steps, showing his agitation. Finally, he took a deep breath, and his eyes locked on me. He wore none of the charm or glowing smiles I was accustomed to. Instead, his face looked severe and held a deep frown. I pulled out all the skills I had accumulated to date and then stood up before him, ready to face the future head-on.
“The girl?” Although he said the words softly, they held a tone that sent a spike of fear shooting through my spine.
“Out of your reach.”
His teeth clicked and he let out a hiss, but otherwise, his expression remained the same. “Where?”
I squared my shoulders. “I don’t know, ask Devon.”
His hands clenched, and for a second, I thought he might backhand me like he did to the dungeon mistress the previous night, but in the end, his shoulders started to relax and he made a vexed noise.
He started speaking, but his voice was soft and slow like he was controlling every word that came from his mouth. “You’ve… disappointed me.”
“I seem to disappoint a lot of people,” I answered flippantly.
I didn’t want to piss him off, but I also couldn’t seem submissive. I was a princess, after all, and I still needed to maintain my part.
“You know, even if it is not that girl, it’ll be another. Without her, I’ll have to find another sacrifice.”
“Is that a threat?”
The question hung in the air so thick that it almost could be seen. The pair of us stared darkly at each other, and it was tough to admit but I was holding my breath. This seemed like it’d be the moment that decided my future. However, he suddenly broke into a smile. It wasn’t as wide and open as usual, just a slight curving of the lips, but his body did seem to relax.
“How could I threaten my own family? Truly, my girl, you are silly sometimes.” He gave a familiar wave of his hand as if he was discarding my bad thoughts. “Devon and Richard have proven to be disappointments as well. It seems only natural that my family doesn’t meet my expectations. Perhaps my Gregory is an outlier. It only serves to make me appreciate him more.”
I finally let out a slow and methodic breath as the tense atmosphere started to leave the room. However, Julian wasn’t done talking just yet.
“But I do warn you, my dear, I won’t be able to protect you from what comes next.”
“What comes next?”
He pointed to his face. “Your mask, my dear, you were seen by everyone. It was destroyed, which was an unfortunate mishap but it does mean that your acceptance to our society has been revoked.”
As I remembered my face being slapped by the full power of a high-leveled king, an unfortunate mishap seemed like a massive understatement.
“That’s fine…” I said.
Julian stiffened, but after a moment, he gave me another smile. “That may be so, but regrettably, the damage has been done.”
My face started to turn a little white as I considered the possibilities. “Damage?”
“Oh, it’s not as bad as all that. You were seen. Your identity as Cornelia is known. The rumors will fly… every action you took at the party will become the talk of the capital. I recall you fucking five men at a time, getting plowed from behind, and giving oral to over a hundred men and women. That will become public knowledge. Before long, your title might become Cornelia the Slut, or Cornelia the Whore. These kinds of things can’t be avoided.”
To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded the title. If it gave me good benefits, I’d just set it when I needed it. After all, I was already the Town Bicycle and a Gang Banger. Reinhart had mentioned to me that like a few of my other more eccentric abilities, most people could not change their title. Their most important title took precedence although it was suggested that certain high-level actors and spies could change their titles. This led me to conclude that the need of a seductress to deceive made title selection a native ability of my class.
I still had to act the part of a princess though, and so worry ended up creasing my forehead. “How is that considered not bad?”
Julian laughed. “Well, think of it this way. No one can admit to seeing you. You may have been seen in the underground society, but the underground society is a secret itself. It’s pretty hard to accuse someone of being at something that doesn’t exist while attesting that you weren’t there. The “I heard it from a friend” excuse will go around, but rumors are as far as it will be able to go.”
I gave a breath of relief, and he chuckled. He took a step forward, and surprisingly, he embraced me.
“Thank you, Julian…” I said, my voice muffled against his perfumed chest.
“Well, you are my cute little sister, after all.” Julian sighed. “If my sister didn’t give me headaches, who would? It is a shame though, you were like the flames of a phoenix out there, you shone so bright, but burned out so quickly.”
“Mm…” I nodded. “I wish I could go back.”
“Ah, my dear, maybe in a few years, once you’ve grown. I still haven’t lost hope in you. Perhaps I had pushed you forward too quickly. I never could contain myself. When I am King, things may change. Just please don’t give me any more headaches, please, and do your best in the future.”
We parted, and he gave me a light bow before leaving the room on a considerably lighter note. As the door closed, and he left, I breathed out a sigh, the smile on my face disappearing.
“Dead eyes, don’t trust…” Min said, moving up next to me.
“Yeah… I know.” My expression turned worried.
Of course, that entire conversation had been a lie. True, my deception hadn’t caught a single misstep. However, I reflected on what Reinhart had told me about skills. Could a skill that detected lying work on a sociopath? I suspected that wasn’t the case.
His eyes, even though his face had changed, and he wore a happy expression, his eyes never changed. That darkness inside, it was not something that he could easily hide. And thus, our entire exchange was fake. It was less a concerned brother, and more a warning.
His words were much like the letter Nova wrote, a spattering of veiled threats and suggestions. He mentioned he’d be King one day. If I crossed him again, he would punish me. He mentioned his brothers to suggest that even they couldn’t protect me from him. He spoke of flames to suggest the ultimate price of being a traitor. In the end, his anger wasn’t diminished, only hidden.
While thinking about the potential difficulties I’d have from enraging Julian, I tried to go back to sleep, but an hour later, there was another knock on my door. This time, it was someone else that I didn’t want to see at the moment.
Melinda Fry barged into the room as well. She immediately went to my closet and started pulling out a dress.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
“We are going out,” Melinda stated.
“A lady’s night!”
“Ah… oh, well, maybe the rumors…”
“Oh, I’ve heard the rumors.” Melinda sniffed. “Another bunch of gossipy women going on with their tales. As they told me this, I asked them to present me one person admitting to seeing you do anything from a first-hand account, and their faces went purple!”
As she pulled out a dress, underwear, socks, and shoes to get me ready to go, a depressed looked showed on my face. Melinda was moving under the assumption that these were more nasty rumors spread by people like Sylvia. The truth was far worse, and I had to set her straight, as much as it caused my gut to clench and my throat to tighten.
“The thing is… many of those rumors are likely true…” I finally spoke out.
“I know…” Melinda shrugged simply, but when I gave her a questioning look she continued. “I bribed a servant to talk. They say those things are all secret, but a few coins will make most servants speak. As he described it, the King slapped you in the face, and then you kidnapped a naked little girl and fled. He said something about the party falling apart and everything devolving into a near riot that I didn’t understand, but I got the gist of it. The King was going to rape a little girl, and you stopped it. I see nothing wrong with that.”
I gave a wry smile, seeing how it being taken out of context could look that way. “Before that happened though…”
She was already pulling my nightgown off over my head as she sighed. “Your husband-to-be was going, as well as the princes and the king. We all know those things exist, those of us that choose not to take the mask aren’t stupid. Every noble in the city has to talk daily with people who go to those things in civil and respectful conversations. You went. So, what? Your private life is yours to enjoy, and frankly speaking, you’re young. Every noble has done stupid things when they were young. I can’t blame a young woman being curious and wanting to explore her body with men before marriage.”
Somehow, I doubted she was truly imagining the extent of my depravity. I wondered if she could say that while seeing a dick in every hole as I jacked off two men at a time while covered in the semen of a dozen or more men. There was curiosity and exploration, and then there was me.
Still, Melinda was forceful, and I couldn’t stop her from dressing me before pulling me from my room and off for an afternoon with the girls. As we headed to the door, she suddenly stopped and turned to Min, who had helped her dress me, but otherwise stayed out of our way while Melinda was on her war path.
“You, servant, you’re the one who made all of Cornelia’s dresses?”
Min gave a respectful but tight nod. “Mm…”
“Then you’ll be needed as well!” She grabbed Min’s arm too and ended up pulling the pair of us out of the room with her.