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She sat still on the velvet cushion, not daring to to move an inch as her tutor described how the Amarr Empire was the first of the empires to discover jump gate technology. The otherwise complex technical details were masked by drawings meant for a child–the gates were completely disproportionate to the ships moving through them, the ships themselves looking more like bloated golden finger cakes rather than the golden armadas of the Amarr. Her stomach rumbled. She shouldn’t have thought about food.

“Lady Rebecca?” The tutor, a true Amarr named Sigmund, turned his bespectacled gaze towards her.

“My apologies, Master Sigmund,” She responded quietly, trying to diminish herself back into the chair, a fearful look slowly contorting her face. She knew what was coming.

He took out a meter stick from behind the projection screen–an act that caused it to flicker, disrupting the smiling, fanciful pictures of scientists, engineers, and pilots pioneering gate travel. He brandished it for a few moments, then regarded her carefully. Master Sigmund was nothing like her previous tutors–teachers, musicians, and academics that her Uncle Reginald had hand-picked for her education. Those were all gone. All that was left was a tutor in Lord Clarelam’s employ: Master Sigmund.

“You know the rules, Lady Rebecca. Self-control is of the utmost importance in the nobility,” He tapped on the wooden table in front of her with the meter stick.

She sniffled a little, but she knew that holding back would only result in being hit harder, so she gingerly placed her hands palm-down on the table. The reddened marks of previous whacks were apparent on the backs of her hands, the most recent one still stinging from the strike. Without any semblance of ceremony, the meter stick came crashing down on her hands, the sound of the slap reverberating through the parlor that served as a classroom on the Clarelam Estate. She winced at the familiar sensation, as if her skin was being torn apart, but she bit her lip. Crying would only make it worse. Crying would only make it worse. She shut her eyes. Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry.

“Lady Rebecca?” The imperious tutor broke into her thoughts, “Are those tears?”

***

It had been several weeks since Lady Katerina’s departure from the Sakakibara Holding. Herpresence, her voice, and especially her promises, were all merely far-off dreams for the six year-old noble who had been named Holder. She could remember how Lady Katerina left, though she couldn’t remember all of the words. The red-haired woman, in whom she had placed all of her trust, whom she had once seen as more of a mother than a regent, said something about null security space and how badly she was needed there but that she shouldn’t worry, as Lord Clarelam would look after her. With that, Lady Katerina disappeared like a wisp of smoke. There was a sinking feeling in Rebecca’s stomach as she watched her former regent walk away.

“I thought you left me! I thought you left me!” She had once cried, waiting as she had at Templar Vadam’s estate. 

Lady Katerina had embraced her warmly, whispering to her, “Never.” 

Never was a lot shorter than Rebecca had thought.

At first, her time in the Clarelam Estate had been bearable. Much of her schedule was maintained and she was given freedom of movement through the estate. Every other day she went riding with Frou-Frou, oftentimes accompanied by her betrothed, the younger Ahrosseas Clarelam. He reminded her of the princes in her storybooks in how proud and brave he seemed, treating her very much like a little princess. It had taken some time for her to understand what it meant to be engaged to him, but numerous clergy and her tutors had explained the situation. She was to be married to him when she reached the age of eighteen. He was kind to her, tender, and even requested to his grandfather that her chambers be located within the crystal palace he called home. The walls of glass were awe-inspiring to Rebecca, all of the treasures of the palace bathed in natural golden sunlight. She felt welcome there, despite being a stranger to Clarelam customs.

It was roughly midnight when she awoke. She couldn’t remember why she had gotten up, only that she did. Maybe it had been a bad dream or maybe she had been thirsty. Whatever the reason, she slipped out of the safety of her bed and walked along the starlit passages of the palace. That’s when she heard the noises.

She should’ve gone back. She should’ve just turned around and forgotten about the sounds emanating from the floor upon which the younger Clarelam slept. But curiosity got the better of her. She ascended the steps, though she hadn’t bothered to keep to corners or shadows. What did she have to fear about this family that had taken her in, given her a home? The family that she was to become a part of when she turned eighteen.

She saw the crack of light escape from the double-doors that led to the younger Clarelam’s bed-chambers, the sounds so loud as to be discernible. Gasping. A sound of squeaking, as if someone was jumping on his bed. A woman’s voice. And the words. Words that Rebecca had been told were forbidden to repeat in polite company and yet as she approached, she heard them declared with vigor, with passion. She reached out to touch the handle of the door, but didn’t quite grasp it–instead causing the door to move ever so slightly.

“Someone is at the door.” A woman said in an annoyed tone, as if she had just been denied something inches from receiving it.

There was shuffling, the sound of heavy footfalls, as if a monster was charging for the door. Rebecca backed away, then froze in place. He burst through the doors, half-dressed, covered in sweat, lip-shaped red marks on his cheeks and forehead. He was breathing heavily, his teeth were clenched.

Finally, he cracked a crooked smile, “What are you doing out of bed at this hour, my lady?”

***

Life had never been the same after that. She remembered the heated arguments between Ahrosseas and his grandfather, how her Sakakibara tutors were sent away, how she was appointed handmaidens, how she wasn’t allowed to move freely about the Clarelam estate any longer.

“You can’t tell anyone about what you saw,” He had told her.

She had been riding Frou-frou for an hour when he caught up, dressed immaculately in Clarelam colors. He sent her handmaidens away as he took Frou-frou’s bridle, leading him gently down one of the rolling hills on the estate. After a few minutes of awkward silence between them, he looked up at her.

“How much did you see, my lady?”

Rebecca shook her head. She had done her best to forget that night, though it was seared into her memory. She remembered his crooked smile the most. In that moment she considered running. Of breaking Frou-Frou away from his grasp and galloping away. To Templar Vadam’s? To Lady Lianne’s? Somewhere. Anywhere but where she was.

“I see.” He helped her off of Frou-Frou though she tried with all her might to stay on him.

“Well, my lady, if you’re unwilling to tell me…”

She remembered the glint of the steel, its sinister shape. She knew exactly what it was–the weapon that villains used in her storybooks. She remembered begging him not to, revealing that there wasn’t anything she could recall. He cocked the pistol, then called her a liar.

That was the day she lost her best friend.

***

“Lady Rebecca, I asked you a question. Are those tears?

She nodded silently.

Whack.

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