Location: Caouk, Garizal. The Queen’s winter castle.
Queen Lia lounged back in her chair, drumming her fingers against the table before her. Reports had flown in this morning from the Captain of the Guard that the Duchess of Athselt and most of the members of her court had been arrested for treason. Murdering both the Queen and the Heir Apparent was the worst crime that a person could commit, and the entire Athselt family was involved in the conspiracy. The only one to get away was Lia’s husband, Besdett, but she didn’t expect him to be a problem for long. Even in Alzair, Lia had friends.
Oh, what a sweet trap she had set for him, and the foolish little man had fallen right into it. Now, all that remained was Garizal’s troublesome neighbors. Lia stood, fingers clenching into tight fists. Alzair was a disgrace. They let their women run rampant, praising the very elements of human nature that more civilized countries found distasteful. While their matriarchs bathed in the blood of their kills, they left their inept husbands to raise the children.
And her sister, the Heir Apparent, had been ready to give in to their demands.
Lia needed a win. People murmured conspiracies about her involvement in the Queen’s and Princess’s deaths, and a decisive victory against Alzair would put all of that to rest. Luckily, the Crown had just claimed the army that had belonged to the House of Asthelt. She had sent orders with the Captain of the Guard that as soon as they had fully secured the loyalty of those troops, they were to be sent to the front lines, and perhaps stop the advances of those thrice-cursed Ligarks.
“It’s not enough,” she muttered to herself, pacing along the length of her carpet. Even if she managed to push back the troops, it wasn’t the win she wanted. It was not enough. She didn’t just want to prove that her army was better than Alzair’s, and put their blasphemous ideas in the dirt where they belonged. She wanted to prove that her country was better than Alzair. She wanted Alzair to cease to exist.
A small thump drew her thoughts to a standstill. Whatever it was, the noise seemed out of place. Lia’s blood began to pound. She remembered, when she was little, someone from Alzair had snuck into the country, made it all the way to the summer palace where the royal family had been staying at the time. They tried to kill Aliz first, but mistook Lia for her sister. She ended up with a stab wound, while her sister got all the credit for knocking out their assailant.
However masculine the endeavor, she’d sworn never to be so defenseless again. Whether it be through words, poison, or weapon, she’d make her way through the world knowing she could fight against any threat that came her way. Aliz had ridiculed her for it, but look where that had gotten her.
Now, Lia was ready, tucked in a corner and armed with a curved dagger. A strange sort of calm settled upon her nerves. She was ready for this. She had always been ready for this.
A misshapen shadow grew from near her window, and then a slim figure dressed in black stepped into the candle light. A hood covered their face, but Lia could tell it was a woman. If it wasn’t, it was an unlucky boy.
With steps as quiet as a cat’s, Lia drew closer to her assailant even as the hooded figure scanned the room, searching for their prey. It was their mistake, however. They didn’t know this room like Lia did.
She leapt out like a viper and buried the dagger deep into her assailant’s chest. The woman cried out, swinging her own knife towards Lia, but the Queen leapt out of the way, taking her dagger with her. A great red stain bloomed across her opponent’s shirt. The woman stepped towards her, then fell to her knees, growing pale.
Lia crossed the distance, kicking the woman’s knife from her hands. The force was enough to knock the woman off balance, and she barely caught herself as she fell forward.
“Who are you?” Lia demanded, yanking the woman’s hood back.
Suddenly, her door crashed open, and four guards spilled into the room. Useless, Lia thought with a snarl. She could have been dead by now. Lia motioned for them to stay where they were; the woman would not live much longer, and she needed to information quickly.
The woman spat at Lia’s feet in response.
It didn’t matter, really. She knew enough about Alzairan weapons to identify the woman’s knife as Alzairan. Which meant that this woman was almost certainly a Ligark. Lia cursed them with the most potent words she knew.
The Ligark had pushed herself back onto her knees, pressing her hands against the wound. Her face was scrunched up in pain. “Your blade was poisoned,” the Ligark said in disbelief. Her voice was thick with pain. “You Garizal women think you’re so high and mighty because you leave your fighting to the men. It doesn’t make you any better than us, though. Anyone can be violent. Even Garizal’s precious queen.”
“‘The world is cruel, and oft requires a cruel answer,'” Lia quoted, kneeling before the woman. One of her guards began to protest, but she cut him off with a look. “‘But don’t be fooled into thinking that cruelty must always end in red.’ Filauria. I’d tell you to read her, but, well. You’re not looking so good.”
“How long?” the Ligark demanded, her hands shaking.
“A couple of minutes, if you’re really lucky. It’s about to start burning pretty bad, though. If you tell me what I want to know, I can end it faster for you.”
The Ligark tried her best to snarl, but the way her body convulsed suggested that the poison’s worst effects had already begun to take hold. She whimpered, to Lia’s satisfaction.
“Just tell me why you’re here. Why did you try to kill me?”
“They said you were so clever,” the Ligark said in gasps.
Lia rose to her feet in disgust. “I suppose without me sitting on the throne, there is no named heir to replace me. Garizal descends into chaos. Alzair swoops in to claim their victory.”
The Ligark cried out, hunching over as if that would spare her from the effects of the poison. Her breathing grew uneven.
Lia ignored her. “Well, two can play at that game.”
The Ligark slumped forward, and grew still.
“Clean up this mess,” she snapped to her guards. “We’ll talk about this later. Right now, I need a bath.”
Right now, she needed to think. Perhaps a conciliatory shipment of Garizal’s best wine, to be sent to the royal family of Alzair. They wouldn’t accept it, of course, but perhaps while they were distracted with the wine, Lia could hit them from behind.
She’d wipe out Alzair and their barbarism. They didn’t stand a chance.