A Long-Awaited Parting
The day after I kissed him, Glint made no mention of the incident. He made no mention of it the day after that, either, nor the following day. It took him almost a month to even give me any indication that he recalled the incident. Of course, I did the same. We had more pressing priorities. But the matter of what followed from that kiss is a story for another time. First, allow me to recount the events that occurred just shortly after that kiss.
The day after we secured my father’s agreement to accept Rosalind’s offer of patronage, we immediately began the process of moving my family into the accommodation set aside on the palace grounds for contracted artisans. This process was largely overseen and coordinated by Glint – I was absent for much of it. My time was instead spent discussing what I knew of Julio’s plans with Rosalind. Secretive as the man was, I knew only hints of his plans, but not the details. He never told me anything important, even when he decided to take out his frustrations on my unresisting body. All I could offer my benefactor were the few snippets of largely inconsequential information that Julio had divulged, as well as accounts of the missions I had carried out in his name over the last few years. Rosalind seemed particularly interested in said missions. Many of them involved assassinating various targets in seemingly unconnected locations – not all of the targets were of high political value, either. My victims included the leader of a gang of bandits, the third son of a minor noble, and even a vintner among their number. Furthermore, my missions often took me to far-flung, remote reaches of the Empire to kill said targets.
Personally, I could not understand the import of these strange, scattered, seemingly pointless assassinations. Yet Rosalind seemed to glean something, some sort of hidden pattern – her eyes shone with the light of understanding, understanding which I did not share. However, she did not explain her discovery to me, nor did I ask her to. It was likely a form of consideration. I did not desire to dwell long upon the sins I had accumulated as Alpha, and I did not care to know that my unwilling servitude was furthering some greater plan – I had no desire to remember my time as a puppet on Julio’s stage.
In any case, these hurried preparations filled the days that followed. By some stroke of luck, Julio’s return was delayed by two days, giving me time to scribe from memory the details of each and every negotiation I had been privy to. Ideally, I would have scribed these details from the original documents that detailed the results of the negotiation, but Julio was a cautious man, and kept no trace of anything that could be used as incriminating evidence. My sketchy reports were basically useless as pieces of evidence, but Rosalind assured me that they were more than sufficient to let her form a clearer picture of Julio’s intentions and thought processes. I did not question her confidence. She was extremely competent and rather intelligent, and so I trusted her judgement. I, too, was possessed of exceptional intellect, as was Glint, but our powers of reasoning were specialised in different areas – Glint’s was business and observation, mine was magic and espionage. Rosalind’s was politics and analysis. We trusted in each other’s abilities, and so we went about our tasks individually, with full confidence. It was a rather… different working paradigm than what I was accustomed to. Unlike my colleagues in the Academy, neither Rosalind nor Glint ever spoke to me with that tone of reverence and admiration that I had come to resent. At the same time, I never had to explain an insight twice, nor did I ever feel like I had nothing to learn from them. The three of us stood as equals – even though our circumstances were wholly unequal. In this manner, we formed our strategy to move forward with our bid for power.
The day of Julio’s return saw me being summoned to his office. It was a confrontation I had been awaiting with no small degree of anticipation. He didn’t even look up when I entered his office. He just continued reading and stamping his endless pile of documents. I felt my thoughts turning to the dagger strapped to my thigh. My mind ran through numerous ways to kill him silently and quickly – ways I had learned in my time as his pet murderer. He was wholly unaware of the fact that I had been freed from his vile magic. It would have been so simple to drive a spike through his back using his shadow.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple. It was never that simple. Julio was a careful man. He likely had some sort of defence around him at all time, perhaps another magical tool. Even if he didn’t, it was likely that his plans had some sort of contingency that would allow them to progress without him. Furthermore, if he were to die here and now, in the presence of the maid that he had given to Rosalind, the suspicion for his death would fall squarely upon Rosalind’s shoulders – and her position as a woman in the court was already precarious enough without destabilising it further. As such, even though I wished more than anything to drive my blade between the man’s eyes, I restrained myself, saying nothing and doing nothing. My state of inaction gave off the impression that I was still his puppet, but the truth was that I didn’t trust myself to be able to hold in my hatred if I were to make any move. Thus, I waited silently for him to turn his attention to me. I had waited years, a prisoner in my own mind. I could wait a couple hours longer.
It took an hour and a half for Julio to set down his pen and address me.
“Report. Were you successful in the task I gave you, Alpha?”
The moment he addressed me by my name, the name I had lived under for years and the name that I had only recently thrown away, I felt the repressive hatred within me disperse, like chains falling to the ground. I still hated the man, but there was no longer any risk of that emotion guiding my actions. I was not Alpha. I had a name. I had a surname, even. One that was given to me by my benefactor and liege. And since I was no longer Alpha, I was no longer controlled by my past. I was no longer in the thrall of what Julio had done to me. I would exact my vengeance upon him, make no mistake. But I would do so as Advent, not as Alpha. My lip curled up into a mocking smile.
“I have nothing to report to you, pissant.”
Julio blinked, uncomprehending. I relished the sight of the man. This man, who prided himself on always being in control, was dumbfounded. It was an exceedingly satisfying expression to see on his face.
“I must be hearing things. I said report, Alpha.”
“No, you’re not. I have nothing to report to a sick bastard like you.”
His expression shifted from one of confusion, to disbelief, then finally to anger. Clearly, the possibility that I might be freed had not been included in his calculations. He made a visible effort to collect himself, then stood up and walked around to the back of his chair, facing his closed, curtained windows.
“If you are no longer my puppet, then why are you here?”
“Why, because you called for me, of course. How could I ever refuse you, Master?”
I spit out the last word with as much venom as I could muster. Immediately, he snapped around and held his palm out to me, a ring on his finger that was identical to the ring that had enslaved me – the accursed ring that we had destroyed. It seemed that there had been another. I felt the spell wash over me and seize control of my mind. Julio laughed as I stood there, unmmoving.
“And now your sarcastic lie will become truth, once again. Ah, I never did tell you, did I, Alpha? That ring was one of a pair. This is the other – and this one still has all three charges.”
Julio walked around his desk and approached me. He placed his fingers on my unresisting chin and jerked it up to face him.
“And now, you’re going to apologise for trying to make a fool of me. I will make you feel pain beyond what you can imagine. Not like you can feel anything anymore, doll. Undo your blouse, Alpha.”
My hand moved up to touch the ribbon that adorned the front of my blouse, tugging at it. I felt my top loosening. Then I abruptly let go of it and seized Julio’s hand that was accosting my chin, the hand with the ring. Before he could say or do anything, I struck the gem on the ring with a needle extended from the shadow cast on my wrist by my cuffs. The gem shattered silently, the ring rendered powerless. Then I forcefully shoved Julio’s hand away, causing him to fall backwards on to the floor. I couldn’t kill him here, but I could most certainly humiliate him. Looking down upon him, I took in his uncomprehending expression with delight. I decided to save him the trouble and explain the situation to him.
“Did you really think the same spell would work on me twice? I, who was once known as the greatest prodigy in the history of the Empire? Don’t make me laugh.”
I had spent a large part of the time since my liberation studying my memory for the details of the spell that had gripped my soul so tightly. Once I understood it, preparing a defence against it was trivial. That spell would never work on me again. And now that the ring was powerless, it would never again be used to turn a poor girl into a doll.
I sneered down at the fallen Julio, whose eyes had begun to show just the slightest hint of fear and anxiety. I grinned.
“Allow me to correct you on one matter, your Excellency. I am not Alpha. My name is Advent Whiterose. And as to your earlier question, about why I came here – naturally, it was to announce my change of allegience. From now, and forever, my loyalty belongs to Empress Rosalind, and no other.”
I turned and left Julio’s office behind me, a spring in my step. By the time I had left the Chancellor’s wing of the palace, any thoughts about the man I once called Master had vanished from my mind, replaced by far more important deliberations about what teatime snacks Rosalind might be in the mood for that afternoon.