Chapter 39

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"T—The Princess," Lily stuttered, taking her in again. She was right—she'd seen her in portraits—"Princess Gloria Sovranus is dead. You can't be her."

The woman—Princess—tilted her head to the side, dark hair sliding over her shoulders. "Really? Did you see her body?"

"No, but—"

"Isn't is possible that she was exiled, and they covered it up by saying she was dead?"

Lily's mouth dropped open. "But who—why—" She couldn't make sense od her thoughts, not with so many of them rushing through her head. This was the Princess. The dead Princess.

"Shocked?" The woman chuckled. "I expected you'd be. Everyone in Tsuchengko thinks I'm dead."

"I was at your funeral," Lily said, blinking. "You—"

"But you never met me, did you?" She asked, her lips turning up in a slash of red. "You couldn't know that I wasn't really dead."

"Who—why did they exile you? Who covered it up?" Lily asked, her blood chilling. What was going on?

Princess Gloria's eyes turned dark. "I am King Könei's elder sister. Elder. I should have been the heir to the throne."

"That's not possible—" Lily said, shaking her head.

"Exactly," the Princess said, waving her torch. "It's not possible that a woman can take the throne, despite being the firstborn child and better than her brother in every way."

"What do you mean?" Lily asked, eyes widening.

"I was better than Könei in everything—lessons, decorum—if I'd been taught weaponry I would have surpassed him in that, too. Yet just because of my gender, I was thrown aside!"

Lily moistened her lips, shaking her head, but the Princess continued.

"Könei the wonderful, Könei the heir," she said bitterly. "My father knew. He knew that I was better than Könei, but he refused to put me on the throne."

Her eyes bored into Lily's. "Do you know what they were going to do with me? Offer me as a pawn, into a marriage alliance with a noble or another kingdom. When I should have been Queen!"

Lily couldn't say anything.

The Princess' eyes fell to the floor. "It was always Könei this, Könei that. Never Gloria. Never how well Gloria was doing, how excellent she had been today. Everyone was focused on Könei."

Lily felt something she never thought she'd feel for this woman—pity.

Princess Gloria's jaw tensed, and her tone turned hard again. "I was fed up of it. No one noticed me. So I decided I'd make them notice me."

"What did you do?" Lily breathed.

Princess Gloria looked up at her, fire flickering in her eyes. "If I wasn't going to get the throne, I decided Könei wouldn't either."

Lily's lips parted. Was she saying that—

"I tried to kill him," the Princess said, almost nonchalantly.

Lily sucked in a breath.

"I took a sword one day, crept into his bedchamber. I almost did it, but some guards had seen me. They held me back."

Lily swallowed. Gloria had tried to kill Könei? Her own brother?

"They imprisoned me, and then my father and brother came down to see me in the dungeons. Oh, you should have seen my father." Gloria chuckled bitterly. "He was so angry. He didn't even seem to understand why I'd done it."

The Princess was clearly mad. But despite her horror, Lily could understand why she was angry.

"But my brother—he was so condescending." Gloria spat. "Said he couldn't kill his own sister, so what did he do? Exiled me. Out of my own kingdom. And then they told everyone I'd died in my sleep, just like that."

What happened after that?

"They sent me to Dezhaya," the Princess breathed, her lips turning up slightly. "But they didn't realize that that would be their downfall."

"How?" Lily breathed, finally able to form words.

The Princess gave her a short laugh. "I was able to find someone in Dezhaya, who sympathized, who was very similar to me. Together, we set up a resistance. We met two others, and from then, we just grew stronger."

"The four leaders," Lily murmured. Adrian had been right.

Princess Gloria gave her a sharp nod. "One from each kingdom. I'm sure you know. Together, we are close to taking over the world."

Lily gaped at her. Everything she had said was...

"Now," the Princess said, sounding businesslike. She looked at Lily sharply. "Do you see how we are alike?"

I didn't try to kill my family.

Still, Lily nodded. "We were exiled for using weaponry."

The Princess shook her head. "More than that. We were exiled for trying to be more than the roles they'd forced us into—a shadow, a thing to be used. We were exiled for trying to be like them."

She'd got it all wrong.

Still, Lily didn't argue.

"You saved your husband's life, but they still exiled you. You just about saved the whole kingdom, but since word had spread, they exiled you!" Gloria scoffed. "You must be angrier than I am."

Lily willed calm fury into her eyes, her face. "I am."

The Princess' eyes turned snakelike. "Would you like to prove that anger?"

"How?" Lily breathed, clenching her fist. This was good—why was she so worried?

The Princess smiled. "You have killed one of our commanders."

"I—I didn't—"

The Princess waved a hand, cutting Lily off. "I understand why you did it. Still, you must atone for that."

Would she have to kill someone?

Lily took in a breath, her heart beating quicker. She couldn't kill an innocent person.

"I think you know what I'm saying," the Princess said, watching Lily's face carefully. "A life for a life."

"I—I have to kill someone?" Lily asked. She couldn't do this, she couldn't—

"Come in!" The Princess called loudly, over Lily's quickening breaths.

Lily blinked at the wall behind Princess Gloria, the wall that wasn't a wall at all, but rather an opening, through which two figures came in—

One was a Qarinian, with skin white as snow, short, nearly-white hair and strange blue eyes. She was dragging another figure in.

Venix, gagged and bound.

Gloria turned to Lily.

"Kill him."

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