“You’ve got talent and the will to become a great empress one day.” Rouya heard her father’s words echoing in her mind.
He said it only a month ago, and she thought nothing of it at the time. The Magi War ended five years prior and it seemed as if peace could finally settle into the land.
Rouya clenched her hands into a fist, tightening her grip until she felt her nails dig into her skin.
“I can imagine what you’re going through,” Markus said. “I knew your father for a long time. We’d been through much together and I hate seeing him go this way. As much as we’d all need to grieve, I’m afraid there isn’t any time for it.”
Rouya perked up and studied the man across from her. A group of soldiers carrying a body outside passed them, creating a moment of awkward silence. “I’ll be the one to judge that. Aequilla is ours and the traitors have retreated to their holes.”
“They still hold a combined five Maidens against our two,” Markus pointed out, ruffling through his graying hair. “They still have my wife and I’m not willing to put her life at risk until I know we’ve taken every precaution available.”
Rouya nodded, glancing over to where Evelyn stood on guard. “Thank you for your dedication. I’ll be holding a two-day mourning period so we can properly bury the bodies. Now I need some time to myself to think. We’ll speak in the morning and I’ll let you in on any plans I might have come up with.”
Markus inclined his head and placed a hand to his chest. “Very well, Your Highness.”
Rouya stiffened at the title. Something she’d still have to get used to from now on. She nodded and walked back to her chambers where she let herself fall back onto the bed and spread herself wide as she stared up at the ceiling.
Life seemed so much easier only a few hours ago but now she was responsible not only for herself but for every soul in the empire and the forces threatening to tear them apart.
The faces of her family came to mind. The way she found them bloodied and covered in rags. They never hurt a person in their lives and didn’t deserve what they did to them.
A knock sounded at the door stirring her away from the troubling thoughts washing against her mind. Rouya slid over and sat on the edge of the bed. “Come in.”
The door opened a crack and Evelyn peered in before tentatively stepping inside and closing the door behind her. “I’m sorry for disturbing you, but I don’t think I can leave you alone when my previous master died because of my absence.”
“It’s not your fault,” Rouya said. “You did what he commanded you to do. You were protecting me and I’ll be forever thankful for your support.”
“I’ll be more comfortable here knowing you’re safe.”
Rouya sat back down and laid her hand on the space next to her. “You don’t have to stand there all night.”
Evelyn remained put in the center of the room, glaring at the bed. “That’s all right. I don’t need sleep as you do. Besides, I’ll be keeping watch.”
The shimmer of hope fluttering in her chest gave way that moment and she let her shoulders slump. “Very well, I’ll see you in the morning then,” she said and snuffed out the candle on her night stand.
Rouya awoke to the slightest shift in her room and rolled over onto her feet. It was only when she lowered herself to reach for the scythe she kept beneath the bed did she notice Evelyn stirring from under the covers. Her eyes fluttered awake under the strands of disheveled red hair covering her face and a smile quickly formed.
“I hope you don’t mind me taking up your offer,” she said, holding a hand to her mouth as she let out a huge yawn.
“Not at all,” she quickly replied and felt her cheeks warm up at the thought of having spent the night next to a beautiful woman. Rouya lowered her gaze to the Maiden’s rosy lips and hung there for a moment before feeling awkward enough sitting in a crouch in her own room, that she rose and entered the bath.
Pitchers of water were placed by the tub but had gone cold overnight and it wouldn’t be for some time until the servants came to replace the pitcher. She considered ringing for them to come right away but then thought otherwise about it. Plenty of servants lost their lives the previous day, not just nobility. They didn’t need her nagging about cold water on top of it all. Rouya let her nightgown drop to the floor and climbed into the tub. She held her breath, overcoming her fear of the discomfort as she released the first pitcher over her head.
Chills formed down the length of her body, further spurred by the slight breeze she suddenly felt from her broken window. Her breath shook as she released it and forced herself to reach for the next pitcher when she noticed Evelyn standing under the doorframe.
“We’re in my room and you’re ten feet away. I think I’m perfectly safe to take a bath on my own.”
“Can’t be too careful in these times.”
Rouya washed herself and rubbed scented oils onto her skin, refraining from looking at the Maiden. Afraid of what she might see or feel. “You’ve been through this before. What’s it going to take for me to reunite all the relics?”
“Everything. Those who hold themselves to any form of morals or honor are usually the first to fall.”
“Meaning I’ll have to become a cold-blooded murderer?”
Evelyn raised a brow, studying her as she rose and dried herself off. “This isn’t a matter of simply finding the relics. We’ll have to fight each and every summoner holding one. It’s not a one on one either, lots of people are going to get killed in the process with many of them being innocent bystanders.”
Rouya steeled herself, clenching her jaw as she considered the words. “I’m going to burry my father today and my mother, brother and sister. You don’t need to tell me about innocence, there’s been enough loss of that already. What I need to know is how to defeat them.”
“Surprise works best,” Evelyn said. “Fighting another Maiden is risky. You’ll want to take out the summoner as soon as possible. Additional summons or the army will come into play here to attack the summoner directly while I keep their Maiden engaged.”
“You mean you’ll act as a decoy? I didn’t think armies played a role anymore.”
“Assassins, armies, a bolt to the heart. It doesn’t matter as long as the summoner dies. The longer any fight drags out between Maidens, the more dangerous it becomes. We’re each the best at our weapon but that brings with it a certain set of advantages and disadvantages depending on who we’re dealing with.”
Rouya nodded and proceeded to dress back up in her leather armor. “I couldn’t help but notice your reaction when I gave Satrap Markus Attia back. You served with him before, is there anything I should know about him?”
“He fought with a passion for your father and believed in his vision of saving the universe. When Justinian collected the sixth Maiden, Markus handed me over to him without any hesitation.”
“I understand. With him on our side, we should have the upper-hand when dealing with the rebels.”
Next time on Battle Maidens …
Episode 8 – Hearts and Minds