Author’s Note: This story is a sequel to The Baron and the Princess.
It is sometimes said that the path that turns a person towards villainy is a long one, filled with much strife, tragedy and anger.
Princess Lucinda Lucce wasn’t entirely certain that statement was accurate. Oh certainly, she had her own fair share of tragedy in her life, with maybe a pinch of strife and anger on the side, but she’d never go so far as to say it was what directly drove her to secretly take up the mask and visage of Trinite, the infamous Young Rogue of Whitewing. On the contrary, there were a lot of reasons why she did what she did, ranging from personal greed and ambition, to the belief that she could run the city better than her hapless father and brothers, to even the simple fact that she just plain found it fun.
But, if she were to boil her motivations down to the very meat and bones, in her opinion, the true reason she set forth on the path that she did all boiled down to one very simple question, made nearly 10 years ago.
“Why do I have to play as Rosestar?! She’s so boring!”
“Isn’t it obvious?” came the expected reply. “Because she’s a girl and you’re a girl.”
The pout on 6 year old Lucinda’s face clearly didn’t endear her any to her older brothers. Nor did the way she flopped onto the ground, arms folded in a universal expression of dissatisfaction.
Marco, her eldest brother, wasn’t even trying to hide the scowl on his face, clearly frustrated that their mother was forcing him to spend time playing with his younger siblings. After all, in his eyes, at the ‘mature’ old age of 12, he was much too old and adult to waste time playing with children. Never mind that he’d only awakened his Gift a few months back or how much fun he’d clearly been having taking charge of deciding what games and roles everyone was to play.
“Yeah!” Dino, the youngest child present and Lucinda’s irritating twin, agreed with a fierce nod. Already he’d dressed himself in the garb of Boldstar the Bright, at least if Boldstar had gone into battle wearing a white tablecloth that he tripped over every few minutes and a cruddy wooden shield and toy sword. “You gotta be Rosestar, Luce! Otherwise who else are we going to save?”
Lucinda glared at her technically younger brother (even if it was only by a few minutes). Was it really so unreasonable that she didn’t want to spend her playtime waiting for hours in a cruddy toy tower, waiting for someone to ‘save’ her and watching her brothers have a significantly more fun time hitting each other with sticks? That was what usually happened whenever she was forced to play the damsel in their games.
“Come on, Lucy.” Ferruchio, her second brother, said in an attempt to comfort her. “It’s not that bad, is it? There are a lot of great things about Rosestar.”
Lucinda narrowed her eyes at him. “Name one.”
“Well, she was considered to be a remarkably beautiful woman.” Ferruchio said, clearly still under the misguided misconception that he was ‘helping’. “It was said that heads turned at her passing and she sent men’s hearts swooning at the slightest gesture.” He gave her a kind smile. “Doesn’t that sound impressive?”
Lucinda, however, would not budge. “So she was very pretty and did nothing. That’s not that impressive.”
“I wouldn’t say she did nothing.” Ferruchio said, a little unsettled that his kind overtures were being so bluntly rejected. “After all, it was her tragic passing that inspired her three brothers to continue the fight and push Wartyde’s traitorous army out of their lands. Her death even led the Scurio family, in the form of her fiance, to rally to their cause.”
“So she was very pretty, did nothing, died and then other people did all the work for her.” Lucinda summed up. She turned her back on the clearly befuddled Ferruchio. “No thanks. I’m not interested.”
It was faint, but Lucinda could’ve sworn she heard a snigger from the servant woman currently helping mind them for the afternoon. However, she knew she wasn’t mistaking the look of exasperation on her mother’s face from where she sat nearby. Hopefully this wouldn’t end up backfiring on Lucinda. Ever since their mother had gotten pregnant, she’d been a lot more grumpy than usual. Even grumpier than father was. Or Marco, when he was trying to act like father.
“Alright you lot.” Their mother said, carefully waddling over, the bulge from the newest member of their family already clearly visible. “How about this for now. I’ll play the damsel for you boys to rescue and Lucinda can play someone else.”
Marco scowled at the idea of having to spend his afternoon ‘rescuing’ his mother. Then again, it wasn’t like he’d been fond of the idea of rescuing his sister either. “Fine then. Lucy, who do you want to play as?”
“You can’t be Boldstar.” Dino said defensively. “I’m already him.”
Lucinda resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Dino always wanted to be Boldstar. Ever since he’d learned that he shared a namesake with the hero from the War of Bloods and Talents, he’d never shut up about it. It was even worse when he learned that Boldstar and Rosestar were twins like he and Lucinda and insisted on trying to shove her into the latter role as often as he could, regardless of her own feelings on the topic.
Not that it mattered though. Lucinda already had her eye on a completely different character to play as.
“I want to be the Baron.” Lucinda said firmly.
There was a moment of stunned silence, before all three of her brothers exploded into complaints.
“You can’t be the-”
“He’s a villain, Lucy-”
“Girls can’t play male characters!”
“He’s not part of the Lucce family-”
“-not even from the right time period!”
“I don’t care.” Lucinda said, folding her arms. “I still want to play as the Baron.”
This nearly set off a brand new round of complaints, silenced only when their mother raised a hand to shush them down. She slowly turned and gave Lucinda an unimpressed look.
“Lucinda.” She said slowly. “Why exactly do you want to play a supervillain?”
“Because he’s the bestest!” Lucinda exclaimed. “He always did all these cool heists and robberies and outwitted the Order of Heroes at almost every turn, even though all he could do was make simple illusions. Not even the big villains like Devil Black or King Luthor managed to do that. He even managed to steal an entire castle that one time!”
“He was a villain. Lucy.” Marco reemphasized. “He was such a villain that other villains name themselves after him.”
“Yeah, I know, cool right!” Lucinda said enthusiastically, clearly missing the disapproval in Marco’s voice. “He was so good at what he did that everyone wanted to be like him! When was the last time anyone outside this family named themselves after Boldstar?”
Dino made a vaguely offended incomprehensible flustered sound at the jab towards his idol, while the servant woman from before tried once more to conceal her snickers.
Marco and Ferruchio looked like they were also about to protest in their own usual ways when, suddenly, they both froze and turned stock still, backs instinctively straightening and eyes fixed on something directly behind Lucinda.
“I think I can come up with a few good reasons as to why Boldstar is more worthy of praise than a common supervillain.” A stern voice said.
Lucinda winced. She didn’t even need to look to tell who was standing directly behind her.
“F-Father.” She said, slowly turning and doing a weak curtsy.
An indecipherable expression flashed across the face of Alexander ‘Northstar’ Lucce, the current heir to the Lucce family princedom. Lucinda’s father was a man who looked as stern as he sounded, with a fierce grizzled jaw, not at all softened by the short blond hair that atopped his head. His face may have been relatively handsome, were it not almost always twisted into a scowl whenever Lucinda saw him. He was muscular and more thickly built than his father or brothers, albeit not excessively like some of the nobles Lucinda had seen visiting the castle.
“Alexander-” Her mother started to try and get out of her chair, but Lucinda’s father raised a hand to stop her, not once taking his eyes off the slightly trembling girl in his sights.
“I gave you permission to play with your brothers Lucinda, against my better judgment, because your mother asked me to.” Alexander said, his voice frustratingly level. “But if you’re going to start misbehaving… complaining about heroes of this family and idolising criminals, then I might just revoke that right and send you back to your room to study your handicraft.”
Lucinda wanted to bark back a retort or a complaint, like she had before, but her tongue felt heavy in her mouth and her mind was a blur of panic and terror. She could feel the way her heart thudded in her chest and how her body gently trembled against her will and she hated it. Hated this sensation of weakness and fear. Hated the way her head instinctively bowed in his presence.
“’msorry, father.” She said in a very quiet voice. “I won’t do it again.”
Her mother gave an exasperated sigh, but it didn’t lessen her father’s fierce stare any. A spark of defiance and courage managed to worm its way past Lucinda’s fear and she raised her head, looking her father directly in the eyes. Whatever Alexander Lucce saw in her gaze, he clearly didn’t like, as the edge of his mouth pinched slightly.
“On second thoughts,” he said sternly, sternly enough to make Lucinda break off eye contact and instinctively bow her head once more “I think you’ve had enough excitement for today. Perhaps you should report to Sister Salome for a lesson on Rosestar and why she personifies the traits that all women in our family should aim to aspire to.”
In the corner of her eyes, Lucinda could see her mother’s lips tighten, but she didn’t protest or speak in Lucinda’s favour. Neither did any of her brothers. Marco looked bored with the whole affair, if a little smugly satisfied at seeing Lucinda get her comeuppance, while Dino was clearly impatient and wanting to get back to their game. Ferruchio was the only one to show any kind of visible concern but even then, not enough to speak up in her favour.
No, it was clear she’d get no help from that quarter. So much for heroes coming in to ‘save’ the girl.
Lucinda’s teeth gritted, but she managed to push out her response. “Yes, Father.”
Alexander nodded, clearly satisfied with her submission. “Go then. You can take that new handmaiden with you, if you want. You two seem to get along well enough.”
That was a rich way of saying they were the only two girls of similar age in the entire castle. Lucinda was almost half convinced that her father had only bought Morgiana- yes, bought. Even as young as she was, Lucinda could clearly see the signs that Morgiana had been trained and purchased as a slave- just to bring her some company. It almost would’ve been comical were it not so disgusting. Did her father really think so little of her that he thought he could just purchase his daughter a friend, mute and timid as the handmaiden was, and that would be the end of it?
Ridiculous. And infuriating to boot.
Clearly, some of her frustration had bled through onto her face, because her father stopped her before she could leave, placing a large calloused hand on her tiny shoulder.
“Lucinda.” He said, drawing her face to his. “You are a Princess of the Lucce family. That means you have many responsibilities to uphold, chief among which is to act in a way that is appropriate to your station. That means acting like a Princess should, behaving like a Princess should and not doing anything to disappoint your father. Do you understand?”
Lucinda’s teeth set. “I understand perfectly, Father.”
Really, after that, her unique form of ‘teenage rebellion’ was all but guaranteed, wasn’t it?
Of course, her path from dissatisfied child to teenage supervillain wasn’t quite such a straight line. Many other important events happened inbetween. From the joy that came from befriending Morgiana and discovering her Gift, to the tragedy the came two years later when the Wolf King’s Invasion took her mother and barely born younger sister from them, to even the more ambiguous like her discovery of a mentor in villainy and the inevitable deaths, heartbreaks and betrayals that followed shortly after. The ones that truly forged her into Trinite.
Still, Lucinda liked to think that her path began on that day, where she first objected to the role others wanted to her to play in this life and decided to forge her own.
The fact that she had so much fun with it was just a bonus, really.
“Hm?” The sellsword captain on her left blinked, his eyes twitched. “What did you say?”
Trinite felt herself come back to reality with a snap. Damn, she hadn’t said that last bit out loud, had she? She briefly scrambled for an excuse, glad that her mask- a fine piece she’d purchased some years ago as an example of masterful Craftwork (in both the literal and the superpowered sense)- completely concealed her facial expressions.
“Just reminiscing on some old times.” She eventually decided on, her voice shifting to sound a pitch lower. “My siblings and I used to hit each other in the streets with sticks near here.” A lie, but with a whisper of truth to it.
The sellsword captain, a minor Gifted mercenary by the name of Slant, grunted and shifted his posture slightly. “Well, try not to get distracted, will ya? This is going to be a lot bigger than some childish scuffle.”
Trinite’s eyes snapped towards him. Sellsword or not, she wasn’t the sort to suffer disrespect. “I’m quite aware, captain. After all, that is what I’m paying you for, isn’t it?”
The gang war between Trinite’s group and Diamondback’s Cutgems had only grown in the last couple of weeks. Most of the time, both groups tended to have a relatively neutral relationship towards each other, since Trinite’s smugglers provided a lot of vital goods for the Cutgems and the Cutgems provided a lot of necessary funds for Trinite’s operations. However, about a month ago, one particular trading mishap between the two groups led to a fight that left several of Trinite’s top smugglers and one of Diamondback’s key lieutenants dead.
Much to Trinite’s irritation, even after weeks of investigation, she still hadn’t found the exact cause of the fight, but needless to say both sides blamed the other and began to strike back against their perceived enemies. Trinite’s trading warehouses were attacked, Diamondback’s brothels were burned and every other night seemed to involve a scuffle of some sort between members of rival gangs. The only thing that had stopped the streets from erupting into outright warfare was the knowledge that Northstar, his children (minus Lucinda, of course) and the Doveguard would come down on them like a sack of bricks if they did anything too big.
Honestly, Trinite was finding it all more irritating than fun. While Draug was more than strong enough to deal with any of Diamondback’s Gifted, her faithful dragon could only be in so many places at once and the Cutgems knew that, making sure to strike in multiple locations at the same time. Of course, intelligent use of her Gift allowed Trinite to minimize the damage from such raids, but it was still costing her a lot of money (especially since the vast majority of her fighting forces tended to come from hired sellswords and mercenaries) and was an irritating distraction that she frankly did need right now. Already she’d had to close down several of her side projects, including that fun act she’d had with Blacktongue, simply because she didn’t have the time or attention to spare while cleaning up this mess.
Still, just because it had stopped being fun didn’t mean she could avoid dealing with it. Hence why she was here tonight.
“So when exactly do your Seer powers tell you they’ll be getting here?” Slant asked. “The boys are starting to get a bit restless waiting around with nothing to do.” His nose twitched. “I’m not exactly fond of the smell myself. Did you store rotten fish in here something?”
Trinite resisted the urge to sigh. “Like I told you, Captain. They will arrive not long after the signal fires go up. Keep your men under control until then.” Her eyes narrowed. “As well as the forcefields in the positions we discussed. They will vital to making sure this all goes off without a hitch.”
Slant clicked his tongue in a manner almost actively designed to get on Trinite’s nerves. “Yeah yeah, I get it. That’s what you’re paying me for, after all.”
Trinite resisted the urge to twitch her eye, even knowing that her mask would conceal the movement. “It is.” She said sounding more casually than she felt. “And both you and our foes will see exactly why in approximately…” She glanced at a small hovering number on her wrist, one that only she could see. “25 minutes.”
It was difficult to keep up the illusion of nobility and grandeur when dealing with such disrespect, but she wasn’t willing to let herself show even a second’s weakness or uncertainty in front of these men. After all, she was the unflappable mastermind, wasn’t she? It was an image she’d deliberately spent much of her career delicately trying to craft and one that was completely necessary to keeping these sellswords doing exactly what she wanted.
After all, it was one thing spending several hours on top of a smelly warehouse waiting for a large group of dangerous people led by a freaking Gifted of all things, for a fee that was pretty decent but not spectacular.
It was another thing doing so if it was all part of the plan.
A judiciously well-timed use of her Gift had been the thing to tip Trinite off to Diamondback’s current plans. He was sending two large forces of Cutgems, each led by a Gifted lieutenant to strike at two of Trinite’s more important warehouses at once, under the not entirely incorrect assumption that Trinite would lack the numbers and strength to defend the two simultaneously, even she became aware of his plans. He also had a third force waiting in the wings, deliberately kept back until they figured out which location Draug was defending, so they could provide reinforcements and to potentially extract the assaulting group should they need it. It was a fairly basic plan, but one that had been used to great effect for centuries when dealing with opponent capable of calling upon powerful Gifted.
Of course, Trinite was planning on turning it right back onto his head. Splitting up your forces was a good way of distracting your opponent, yes, but it also naturally left each group smaller and vulnerable and more easily wiped out. And successfully capturing one of Diamondback’s lieutenants could be just the thing she needed to tip the scales and force Diamondback into a peaceful arrangement.
Hence why she was waiting in ambush on the roof of one of the warehouses in question with one of the more capable sellsword groups under her employ.
A sudden gasp of breath caught her attention. She turned to see a great spout of flame rocketing into the sky from the other side of town, near the docks area.
“Is that freaking Draug?” One of the sellswords exclaimed.
“I didn’t know he could throw fire around like that.” Another of his fellows said.
A third clicked his tongue. “I pity the poor sods stuck in the middle of that mess.”
Trinite smiled beneath her mask. Good. The distraction was successfully convincing, if a bit dramatic. Otherwise though, things were proceeding right on schedule.
“Look alive!” Someone shouted. “They’re coming!”
Trinite turned her head. Indeed, a few blocks away, she could view a red flag waving desperately from one of the nearby rooftops. One of Slant’s spotters, sent ahead to keep an eye out for Diamondback’s forces and to signal Trinite’s when they arrived.
“S’about bloody time.” Slant scowled, cracking his fingers.
“Now now, Captain.” Trinite said. She adjusted her gloves and cloak in what seemed like a casual manner, while carefully concealing what she was actually doing with one of said gloves. “Don’t get excited and don’t forget to stick to the plan.”
Slant rolled his eyes. “Trust me, I don’t need to be lectured by a kid on how to do my job.”
Stepping forward, Slant let out a loud whistle to bring his men to attention. Then he stepped to the edge of the roof and stretching his arms out, his eyes closed in silent concentration. Before everyone’s eyes, a shimmering green field began to appear, taking the form of a long slanted slope that led from the warehouse roof to the dusty street below. It thrummed with a constant green light, bright and visible to anyone who cared to look.
Trinite took a single step forward onto the glowing field. Indeed, it felt completely solid beneath her feet.
This was Slant’s ability, to create forcefields of almost any size, as long as they were at a slant or an angle. They weren’t the most powerful of forcefields, liable to break apart with three or four solid hits, but they were good for transporting goods to and from tricky locations and had some usefulness in combat. Plus they were plenty sufficient for Trinite’s purposes here.
As she walked down the glowing green slope, Trinite could just about make out the forms of several figures approaching from down the street. The glint of steel and the clunk of light chainmail indicated that these particular people were dressed for battle. At their head, Trinite could see a figure dressed in dark crimson, wearing rounded armour shoulderpads and a circular helmet that doubled as a mask.
She barely kept herself from letting out a relieved sigh. It was Red Jasper leading this assault, just as she had planned for. Not that she had much doubt of that, considering what her Gift had told her, but her Gift wasn’t always 100% reliable and inadvertent mistakes could be made. If Blue Agate, Green Jade, Black Onyx or even Diamondback himself had turned up… Well, she had contingencies in place, but they wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.
Red Jasper, though? Red Jasper was a hothead and a slob who was woefully unused to dealing with her particular tricks.
Red Jasper she could deal with on her own.
“Trinite!” A roar came from the red-armoured Gifted as he pointed a thick finger towards the warehouse. “Come out and die!”
Even knowing the challenge was coming, Trinite felt her mind skip a beat in befuddlement. What the hell kind of taunt was that? Couldn’t he see that she was already on her way down to them? And what was he going to do if she said no?
Still, she liked to think she had a certain ‘cultured’ reputation as a villain, so she couldn’t just come right out and call him an idiot. Well, she could, but she felt like that would be beneath her. Plus she knew that Red Jasper would just get huffy and indignant in response and the two would descend into childish squabbles that, quite frankly, would make neither of them look particularly grand. So instead, she reverted to one of her pre-prepared general use replies and taunts.
“Red Jasper!” She said, her Craftwork mask working both to disguise her voice and amplify it so that the entire street could hear. “What a pleasant surprise to see you here. But haven’t you heard it’s rude to drop in on another man’s property without an invitation?”
Red Jasper puffed his chest out. “The only invitation you’ll be getting, Trinite, is one to the death!”
Oh come on now, that didn’t even make sense as a sentence. Especially when there was a perfectly good ‘invitation to the grave’ just lying there waiting. What, was it too intellectual a comeback for him? Maybe it would’ve been better if Green Jade had shown up instead. It would’ve complicated Trinite’s plans, certainly, but at least she knew how to banter properly.
Ah well, that was just one of the sacrifices one had to make when you were as brilliant a mastermind as Trinite.
“Bold words.” She said, barely hiding the condescension in her voice. She’d almost reached the bottom of the green slope now and silently prepared herself for what was going to be an important step in her plan. “But do you have the strength or numbers to back it up with? Why I see only about 30 men with you.” She tilted her head. “Do you really think that will be enough?”
Red Jasper snorted. “I alone am worth more than these 30 men.” He said in an expected but not inaccurate boast. “Besides which, I see only around 20 men with you. So which of us is really lacking in numbers?”
Trinite felt a smile grow beneath her mask. “Not me.”
There was a sudden loud crash from both sides of the street, making Red Jasper and his men jump slightly, hands darting for swords and weapons. From houses on both sides of the street leading to the warehouse, doors were violently kicked open and nearly a dozen sellswords swarmed out, flanking Red Jasper’s group on both sides. A handful of Slant’s men, whom Trinite had ordered to stay hidden until exactly this moment in order to, as she had claimed, lull Red Jasper’s group into a false sense of security.
Of course, that was a blatant lie on her part. After all, Red Jasper’s boasts weren’t inaccurate, he could probably deal with the entirety of Slant’s men on his own, no matter how many reinforcements Trinite brought along. A couple of dozen men weren’t really going to change that. But that wasn’t why Trinite had brought them along, nor why she had told them to make as much noise as possible when making their entrance.
After all, a good sleight-of-hand trick always worked best when there was a distraction to go with it.
See, unknown and unseen by Red Jasper’s men, there was a very small hole in Slant’s field, barely big enough for a person to slip through and almost impossible to see if you didn’t know exactly where it was. And as Red Jasper and his men were busy being distracted by the sudden loud entrance of Trinite’s reinforcement, they missed Trinite casually stepping into said hole and letting herself plummet the short drop down to the dusty ground below.
Of course, even if they had been looking, there was no guarantee they would’ve seen the trick. Not with the perfectly life-like illusionary copy of Trinite that took her place and continued to walk forward down the slop towards them.
Now, one very reasonably might be forgiven for assuming this was a feature of Trinite’s Gift. And, honestly, Trinite wouldn’t entirely have minded you thinking so. After all, the Baron had a similar illusionary ability and had demonstrated that there was no shortage of potential brilliant uses for it.
But it wasn’t her Gift. Her Gift was significantly less useful in battle (although much more useful in ‘other’ things). On the contrary, the secret to this trick lay in the glove that she had spent so much time fiddling with before the battle.
As the foremost smuggler in the city, Trinite naturally had a lot of illegal Craftwork that tended to pass through or into her hands, hence where she had picked up her mask. However, it wasn’t her only source of useful Craftwork. As a member of the Lucce family, Lucinda naturally had access to the Lucce family vaults, where the most important, powerful and interesting Craftworks weapons and tools could be found. And while she certainly couldn’t get away with borrowing something like Boldstar’s armour, people weren’t exactly likely to notice if a few seemingly minor trinkets belonging to minor members of the family were to go missing.
In this specific case, a glove belonging to Trickstar, a younger less-remembered cousin of Boldstar, capable of bending light to create simple illusions. However, while his illusions could be given actual physical heft to them via hardlight, they tended to be physically unconvincing to enemies, too bright and shimmery and see-through. As such, he commissioned a glove from some of the foremost Craftworkers of the time that would allow him to make his illusions more convincing to enemies.
Needless to say, the Crafters more than came through. Not only could Trickstar’s glove create convincing illusions of its own, but it could also allow the user to turn themselves invisible, fire a stinging hardlight shot from its fingers and tell the time. Trinite wasn’t entirely sure how or why it could tell the time, but she wasn’t exactly one to complain about such a useful feature.
(Especially when time-telling was such an important necessity for her actual Gift.)
Needless to say, it was unbelievably useful in her profession, even if she hadn’t fully figured out all of the quirks. Not only did it give her a good way of surviving and fighting back when involved in fights of her own, but it also made sneaking out of the castle as Princess Lucinda significantly easier. Plus, it could disguise itself as her own normal hand, so she could wear it 24/7, and she was able to pass off the stinging bolt of light to her family as ‘Princess Lucinda’s Gift’, so no-one would have the slightest clue of what her true Gift really was.
As she had hoped, her illusionary clone reached the bottom of the slope with neither Red Jasper nor his men seeming any the wiser to the switch that had been made. It was faint, but the real Trinite could just about see her double through the glowing green field. Slant and his men, as Trinite had ordered, had spread themselves out to either side of her, allowing Trinite an unconcealed view of her double.
That was one of the minor nuisances with the gloves. The few limited illusions she could make with it couldn’t really move properly unless she was looking directly at them. Attempting otherwise often ended up with them unknowingly phasing through the ground or walls, something that tended to tip off even the stupidest opponents that something was wrong.A few even outright faded or disappeared if she stopped looking at them long enough.
Through the shimmering green vision of the field, Trinite could see her double raise a hand towards Slant, just as she had programmed it to. Slant nodded and, with a gesture of his arms, the glowing green of the field behind them slowly began to fade, before disappearing entirely. Trinite of course- the real one- had turned on her invisibility the second she had made her switch, but to Red Jasper’s crew it now looked like there was nothing blocking their way to the warehouse except the illusionary Trinite and her sellswords.
Red Jasper frowned and turned to Slant. “You’re Slant, right? The sellsword forcefield maker?”
“That’s me.” Slant said with a long-suffering sigh.
“My boss would be willing to offer you and your men a good sum to turn on the little bastard there.” Red Jasper said, nodding at Trinite.
“Tempting.” Slant admitted. “But it’s bad for our reputation to be seen as turncloaks.” He paused. “I might take you up on it though if things go bad enough here.”
Red Jasper grunted. “Fine.” He turned back to Trinite. “So are we doing this?”
The fake Trinite stepped back, her arms wide and welcoming. It was a subtle touch, but her mask seemed to be almost smirking in the low light. “You first.”
Red Jasper didn’t hesitate a second. Immediately, he dropped to all fours and a large red circular bubble formed around him, the size of a small horse cart. There was the sound of screeching, like fast moving rubber on stone before the bubble shot directly towards the illusionary Trinite, rolling with the speed of a rampaging bull.
This was Red Jasper’s Gift at work, the ability to create a fast-moving wrecking ball of destruction around him and use it to crush and pummel his foes. Trinite had seen the same form used to bulldoze straight through buildings and reduce normal men to mere smears on the ground.
Unfortunately for him, Trinite had already prepared for this.
Immediately the sell sword raised his hand and a small, waist-height forcefield appeared between Trinite and the rampaging Red Jasper. Red Jasper’s ball of destruction slammed into the forcefield, cracking it slightly, but causing the ball to be chipped upwards into the sky. From there, all the illusionary Trinite had to do was skip casually to the side, as the giant red boulder came slamming down onto the ground where she was once.
However, a small jump like that wasn’t nearly enough to do in the enemy Gifted.
Immediately the rotating ball span to life and accelerated directly back towards the false Trinite, forcing her to roll to the side in a pitch perfect dodge. The ball careened straight into a nearby building and bounced straight off the wall, allowing it to shoot back at Trinite with all of its former momentum, forcing her to dodge again. And again. And again. All supremely effortless dodges that the real-life Trinite would’ve been very hard pressed to perform, but this illusionary Trinite performed like it was little more than a light dance.
Meanwhile, further down the street, Slant and his men were holding off Red Jasper’s forces with relative ease. The waist-high forcefield was used to supreme effect as the sellswords used it as a makeshift shieldwall to defend against their foe’s strikes and to launch well-defended attacks of their own. Already several of Red Jasper’s men were down, with only a few light injuries to Slant and his sellswords.
Unfortunately, back at Trinite’s own section of the fight, something had clearly tipped Red Jasper off that something was wrong with the Trinite he was fighting. The red-armoured Gifted came to a slow stop a few feet in front of the clone and dismissed the bubble around him him, staring at the cloaked figure standing impassively before him.
“What’s the matter?” The fake Trinite said lightly. “Did you tread on a nail?”
Red Jasper scowled and raised his fist. A small red bubble formed around it and began spinning so fast that Trinite could actively see it the air around it vibrating. Then, once he was satisfied it was at a sufficient speed, Red Jasper plunged his hand onto the ground below, tearing up the cobblestones beneath him and sending a fierce stream of stone, mud and dust directly towards the fake Trinite, too fast to convincingly dodge.
Naturally, being a illusion, this all passed directly through Trinite’s form without even ruffling her clothes.
Red Jasper’s eyes narrowed. “Fake.”
“Oops.” The fake Trinite said, clearly not all that concerned with the discovery of her true nature. “I guess you got me. But if you’re wanting to find the real Trinite, I guess you’ll really have to get looking. ” She smirked. “Be warned though. I won’t be nearly so easy to-”
The sneeze, amplified and emphasised by a certain Craftwork mask ability that Trinite had forgotten to turn off, seemed to echo around the street for a moment, as almost every head not currently engaged in combat looked directly towards the surprisingly loud source of the disturbance. Aka, directly towards the real Trinite.
See, it turned out that Red Jasper had kicked up quite a lot of dust during his initial rampage to hit what he thought was his foe. And Trinite, much to her eternal shame, did in fact have a minor problem when it came to dust in her nose causing her to sneeze.
The fact that said sneeze caused her invisibility disguise to start flickering didn’t help matters either.
A vicious grin crossed Red Jasper’s face as he turned towards the still-sneezing (and flickering) Trinite. “Found you.”
Before Trinite or the clone or anyone could do anything, he immediately transformed back into his giant bubble form and shot directly towards the real Trinite, accelerating so fast that he was practically a blur. The cobblestones in his path were ripped asunder at the sheer force of his approach and, even in normal circumstances, Trinite would’ve been very hard pressed to dodge an assault as fast as this. But as she was now, she had almost no chance of getting out of the way in time.
After all, it was very hard to dodge when you were busy trying to conceal your laughter.
See, the secret Trinite knew that Red Jasper didn’t was about Slant. Specifically that simply creating green slanted forcefields wasn’t the only thing he could do. He could actually create his slanted forcefields in all sorts of different colours, from red to silver to blue to, most importantly of all, no colour at all.
And he could change the colour of his fields at will.
Including the great glowing green one that he had initially created leading from the warehouse roof.
The one that he had not, in fact, actually dismissed. And instead simply made invisible.
So when Red Jasper, rather than reducing Trinite to a red smear like he had expected, instead suddenly found himself shooting up an invisible ramp and propelled like a cannonball into the far distance, needless to say he was a little bit surprised.
“Hmm.” Slant said, raising a hand to his brow as he watched Red Jasper’s objectively impressive trajectory sail into the distance. “That actually worked out fairly well.”
“It did, didn’t it?” Trinite said, skipping cheerfully to Slant’s location. “I did tell you I had a plan.”
Slant shot an irritated look at her. “He will make his way back here eventually, you know?”
“I know.” Trinite said, unconcerned. “In fact I’m actively counting on it.” She squinted into the distance and frowned. “Say, could you do me a favour and move about 12 paces in that direction?”
Slant blinked. “Huh?”
“Just take my word for it.” Trinite said, carefully moving away herself. “In about 10 seconds, you’re not going to want to be standing there.”
Slant gave her a bemused look, but did as she said, taking several steps away from where he had previously been standing. Just in time too, because moments later, there was a sudden white flash in the skies and Red Jasper’s plummeting form suddenly shot directly back the way it came, as if struck by something in mid-air. Moving even faster than it had been before, the red boulder slammed into the ground where and Slant and Trinite had once been stood, striking with enough force to shake the earth around them and kicking a veritable cloud of dust and debris into the air.
Scowling, Trinite raised her cloak around her mask, to keep the dust from blinding her or, more inexcusably, messing up her look.
Moments later and the cloud of dirt faded, revealing the groaning, barely conscious form of Red Jasper lying in a heap. Standing on top of him was a short figure in polished silver armour, with a magnificent white cloak flowing in the wind behind him. His arms were folded confidently and a toothy smile could be seen behind the gleaming helmet decorated with bull’s horns that he wore on his head. Flickering lights surrounded him, almost like a giant muscular torso.
“My twin.” Lucinda muttered to herself in a voice too low for anyone to hear. “Always so fond of his dramatic entrances.”
“Evildoers!” Dino ‘Bullstar’ Lucce roared into the sky. “Your crimes come to an end here! For the heroes have arrived!”
As if on cue to his words, dozens of enormous silver broadswords suddenly dropped from the sky, each reaching as high as a small building, and embedded themselves in the roads and streets surrounding the impromptu brawl, blocking the exits with their bulk.
Through her mask, Lucinda could just about make out the form of her eldest brother, Marco ‘Saberstar’ Lucce, hovering above them, standing on a floating silver sword of his own.
“We’re cut off!” Slant snarled, reaching out a hand towards a nearby rooftop. “Hold on. I’ll make us a-”
“Wait!” Trinite shouted sharply.
Slant froze at her sudden bark. Just in time too as, seconds later, dozens of silvery arrows shot down from the sky, piercing the ground around where Slant stood. A single step forward and the sellsword Gifted would’ve been skewered. Slant’s eyes almost bugged out as he realised how close he came to death. Trinite was more impressed at the skill of the archer for clearly deliberately aiming their volley to land everywhere except where Slant was standing.
Then again, her middle brother, Ferruchio ‘Shootingstar’ Lucce had always been an excellent shot. And maybe a touch too softhearted for his own good. At least he had the common sense to stay out of sight this time.
(Plus, she appreciated him giving her a big enough distraction to switch out with her illusionary doppleganger again.)
“Nobody move.” Saberstar said, dropping down closer into view. “The first person to even twitch towards a weapon gets skewered. Are we clear?”
“Yeah!” Bullstar said, nodding sternly. “That’s right, evildoers. Your crimes come to an end here.” He paused dramatically. “For the heroes have arrived!”
Saberstar gave him an odd look. “Didn’t you say that already?”
“Yeah, but I wanted to emphasise it.” Bullstar said. “So they all knew. That the heroes have arrived.”
Trinite resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She’d always thought she’d received the lion’s share of the brains when she and Dino were in the womb together and nothing her twin had done in the last 16 years had disproved that.
“I hope you have some kind of contingency plan to deal with this.” Slant hissed quietly in what he obviously thought were her ears. “Because otherwise we’re all going to be fucked.”
She allowed her illusionary clone to let out a low chuckle.
“My dear captain,” she said with a smirk. “What made you think this wasn’t part of the plan?”
Leaving the Gifted sellsword captain to stew over that statement in shocked silence, she willed her illusionary clone to step forwards with its arms spread wide, while the real her scurried off invisibly towards shelter for what she knew was going to come shortly.
“Well well well,” she said through her clone. “If it isn’t the Idiots Three. What can this humble baron help you gallant knights with today? I should warn you, I don’t have much time to play. After all, I have more than a few major appointments this afternoon.”
“Save it, Trinite.” Saberstar scowled. “The only appointment you’ve got is with the hangman.”
Trinite tried to conceal her smile. See! Marco got how to banter! Sure, he was a little unoriginal and stiff and maybe a bit too dour here and there, but Red Jasper could learn a lot from him. So could Dino too now that she thought about it.
“A tempting offer, I must admit,” she said in response, “but I’m afraid I’ll have to cancel. My schedule is rather booked, after all.”
Saberstar’s eyes narrowed beneath his spiked helm. “You’re not going to have a choice in the matter.”
“Yeah!” Bullstar clashed his gauntlets together. “You’re under arrest, you scumbag. You and all your little friends here.”
“I’m afraid not, oh bold heroes.” Trinite chuckled. “On the contrary, I think I’m going to walk right out of this confrontation with all of my men, without a single scratch on me.” She paused and then pointed at the unconscious form of Red Jasper. “Oh, and I think I’m going to take him as well. He’ll come in handy in forcing his boss to seek terms.”
She could see the moment that Saberstar realised something was wrong from the way his brow visibly furrowed. The swords floating in the air around him seemed to tense.
Unfortunately, that same realisation clearly hadn’t hit Lucinda’s twin, judging from the way he snorted dismissively.
“You really think you’re going to be able to pull all that off now that we’re here?” He said, scorn clear in his voice. “You’re delusional.”
“Nope.” Trinite clapped her hands together. “Just very very good.”
That was when the warehouse exploded.
The fire was the key.
See, when one thought about dragons, it was only natural to equally think about the dragonfire that they were so famed for producing. And Draug, Trinite’s ever faithful knight, was no exception to that rule. Scorched rubble tended to litter the path of her numerous rampages and there was a reason that Whitewing’s fire service had received more practice in the last few years than most of their predecessors had in the decades before.
However, in this case, it was that natural assumption, that connection of ‘dragon’ and ‘fire’, that was the key to this masterful redirect of Trinite’s.
After all, fires could be caused by means other than dragonfire. And if one warehouse, filled to the brim with cheap-but-flammable materials, was merrily burning on the other side of town, it was easy for one to drop their guard and assume that Draug was currently preoccupied.
Needless to say, she not. In fact, she was a lot closer than anyone had thought.
The complete and utter eruption of the long-abandoned storage warehouse was genuinely quite a sight to see. Great plumes of fire burst from the doors and windows, as the walls began to collapse in on themselves. Great fragments of the roof that Trinite and her compatriots had been standing on just a few minutes ago rained down onto the street below, propelled there by the great spot of flame that had erupted upwards, like a great pillar of fire reaching to the sky.
It was a very impressive showing, one that Trinite would be significantly more proud of, had one particular chunk of rooftop not very nearly hit her in her invisible form. Fortunately, she was unharmed, but for the sake of her dignity, she was very glad that no-one could see that.
The reaction of her brothers was significantly more varied. Bullstar had been taken completely off-guard by the sudden explosion and the shockwave very nearly knocked him on his ass. Saberstar, on the other hand, had clearly been tipped off by her gloating earlier and acted quickly, summoning dozens of huge floating silvery swords, interlocked with one another to act as a makeshift shield against the rubble raining down on him and Bullstar.
As for Shootingstar, obviously he’d seen something from his faraway perch that his two brothers had missed, because dozens of silvery arrows swooped down from the skies and plunged directly into the heart of the furnace. In return, a deafening infuriated roar sounded from inside the inferno, so loud and sudden that Saberstar nearly wobbled straight off his floating platform. And Bullstar actually did fall on his ass that time.
“Shit!” Saberstar swore as he regained his balance and brought his floating platform back and out of reach. “I thought Draug was supposed to be on the other side of town!”
Indeed, as the smoke and flame began to clear, an enormous bipedal dragonic figure began to emerge, the ground shaking with every step it took. Draug had grown far bigger than her usual form, her increasingly dragon-like head now on the same level as the buildings around her. The gleam of her iconic dragon-themed armour could just about be seen on her chest, covered and fused as it was with the thick armoured scales that lined her body. Smoke and flame poured from her clawed hands, her fanged mouth, even along the spine of her back as the ground trembled before her.
One of the underrated things about Draug, in Trinite’s opinion, was that her dragon partner had an excellent sense for dramatic timing. The second that she could tell every eye was firmly upon her, sellswords, gang members and heroes all frozen stiff in shock and fear, Draug raised her head directly towards Saberstar and Bullstar and let out an earth shaking roar, that rattled the trees and buildings around them.
The message was clear. A challenge to the heroes.
“We have to fall back.” Trinite could just about hear Saberstar yell over the carnage. “We’re not prepared to fight Draug here. Wait until Father arrives and- Dino, no!”
Apparently her youngest brother had not quite got the memo that Draug was out of his league and charged forward, his form engulfed in silvery light. He seemed to almost burst off the ground, flying into the air like an arrow shot from a bow, heading straight for Draug’s chest.
Draug raised a clawed hand and caught his darting form in mid-air with contemptuous ease.
Trinite had just enough time to savour the look of ‘I may have just made a terrible mistake’ on Bullstar’s face, before Draug raised her hand back and flung the smaller hero straight into an abandoned building, like a child’s playball being flung into a sandcastle.
Judging from the sounds of crashing and debris, Bullstar had been flung cleanly through the stone structure and the three neighbouring houses directly behind it. However, Trinite knew that her twin was tough enough to easily withstand such a blow and get back to his feet without too much difficulty
The torrent of flame that Draug was clearly preparing to fire after him, on the other hand…
Fortunately for Dino, Saberstar had spotted the bright glow forming in Draug’s mouth and darted down to intercept. A shield of glowing silver swords formed between them as Draug opened her mouth and let out a great stream of fierce orange flames towards him.
The heat was blisteringly intense and even from the ground Trinite could feel its warmth. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be in its path, even as protected as Saberstar was.
The fire breath had been going on long enough for Trinite to almost start to worry when suddenly, like a comet streaking through the night sky, an enormous silver arrow slammed into Draug’s jaw, knocking the dragon backwards and forcing her to shut off the flame. Apparently Shootingstar had decided to stop playing around. The arrow hadn’t done much more than singe Draug slightly, but it was still more damage than she’d taken thus far.
It also managed to distract Draug long enough that, when a silvery form darted out from the rubble of the buildings and charged her head on, she wasn’t able to react in time to catch it. Bullstar’s gleaming form struck Draug directly in the chest with enough force to make her stagger backwards. However, as strong as the blow was, Draug was far too large and far too powerful for it to do enough meaningful damage and, moments later, Bullstar was thrown straight back down into the street, courtesy of an almost contemptuous swat from the back of Draug’s hand.
Yet, in spite of how little the attack actually achieved, it did buy enough time for Saberstar to recover from his near roasting. The eldest of Lucinda’s three brothers reached outward on his floating platform and summoned dozens of large silvery swords around him, firing them off on different angles directly towards Draug’s head. While the blades weren’t nearly strong enough to cut through Draug’s tough dragony scales, they did force her to shield her face with her arms, lest they strike her in the eyes, mouth or nose. Seconds later, a fresh barrage of arrows from Shootingstar struck, forcing the dragon back even further.
Were she a more timid girl, Trinite might have begun to worry for her friend, but she knew that at that size, her dragon partner could take significantly more punishment than that before she’d even begin to be considered ‘in trouble’. Indeed, the ultimate result of all of her brothers’ efforts was little more than a slightly singed forearm and a look of irritation as Draug cricked her neck and stepped forward again.
Still, Trinite didn’t have time to reflect on this. After all, she had her own part of the plan to follow through on.
“Slant.” She said in a very low voice, approaching him from behind in her invisible form.
The sellsword captain nearly jumped into the air, immediately whirling around and searching for the source of the sudden voice in his ear. Trinite sighed and let her diguise flicker for a moment, not long enough to be seen by her brothers, but long enough for Slant to see her and, after a quick surprised look at her illusionary double, understand what was happening.
“I want you to get your men to grab Red Jasper and secure him.” Trinite said, nodding at the unconscious Gifted, not that Slant could see her nodding. “I think it’s about time we make our escape.”
Slant’s face twisted in a frown. “I don’t disagree but, in case you haven’t noticed, Saberstar rather cut off our exit.” His eyes darted to the giant silvery swords still blockading the streets. “So unless you’ve got a secret exit somewhere…”
Trinite smirked behind her mask. Slant seemed to sense it somehow.
“…you’ve got a secret exit somewhere, don’t you?”
“Right over there.” Trinite let her disguise flicker long enough to point towards the burning warehouse. “An underground tunnel reaching into the city sewers. I told Draug to make sure it remained untouched when he made his… dramatic entrance.”
Slant was about to complain when suddenly he was distracted by the sky lighting up with a flare of heat and flame. Draug was launching a great stream of fire from her wrist, using it to sweep Saberstar’s swords out of the air. While Lucinda’s oldest brother was busy attempting to swerve and avoid the torrent of burning air, Draug suddenly shot off a small but fast fire ball into the air, straight towards a far off building. Trinite had just enough time to see a flash of white as Shootingstar leaped away from his perch, moments before it was engulfed in flame.
Bullstar, meanwhile, had decided to continue acting like his namesake and somersaulted towards Draug like a charging bull. This time, the dragon didn’t even deign to try and catch him, instead reaching back with an enormous scaly leg and punting the smaller hero directly towards Saberstar’s platform. The oldest brother visibly didn’t seem to know whether to dodge, defend or attempt to catch Dino and ultimately ended up doing neither, crashing into his younger brother in a painful-looking blow that sent them both skittering across the street.
Trinite winced, even as she hid an internal smile. That looked like it was going to bruise.
Still, as much as she might enjoy watching this spectacle, it was unseemly of a mastermind to get too caught up in her own arrogance, especially when reinforcements for her brothers were likely on the way as she spoke. And if Father happened to be in the city… Well, that could end up being very painful.
Of course, she made sure absolutely none of this was in her body language as she turned back to face the open-jawed Slant.
“So then.” She said cheerfully. “Shall we go?”
“Yeah, all right.” Slant seemed just about done with everything today and was clearly willing to just take her word and be done with it. “I knew this job was going to be a pain…”
The rest of the escape naturally went off without a hitch.
Admittedly, there was a small amount of bother as some burning debris had landed on the trapdoor leading to the underground tunnel, but Slant proved capable of moving that with one of his fields. Trinite noted that the sellsword captain had been remarkably subservient since Draug turned up. Either he’d gained a newfound respect for Trinite after seeing her plan come to fruition or he was just glad that he wasn’t going to have to get into the middle of the earth-shaking fight that was Draug vs the Idiots Three, especially considering how badly he was outmatched by everyone there.
Still, Trinite, Slant and the surviving sellswords all managed to get into the underground passage along with the chained up unconscious Red Jasper. Trinite had set her illusionary clone up as a distraction, having it pose on the top of a rooftop while cackling at the three brothers getting their ass kicked. Moments before the last sellsword had made it through, Trinite had seen Saberstar, visibly fed up, fire a silver sword directly at the double.
The look of absolute stupefaction on his face as the sword passed cleanly through the doppleganger would give her pleasant dreams for weeks. As would the look of dawning horror and realisation, seconds before he was slapped out of the air by Draug’s swinging tail.
With that said, sticking around for too long wasn’t a smart idea regardless. Draug had kept it well hidden but she’d been keeping an eye on the sellswords, having been already pre-informed of the full plan, and upon seeing them gone, was going to continue fighting for another 15 minutes before making her own escape, just as she and Trinite had planned. After that, both Lucinda’s brothers and whatever Doveguard guards had arrived on the scene would be looking everywhere for the escaped supervillains.
And, naturally, Trinite would be long gone by then.
Fortunately, the sellswords had already been informed of what she intended from them post-fight. Red Jasper was delivered in chains to one of her secret holding facilities where he’d remain until a peace treaty was worked out with his boss. Slant and his men were paid fully in gold as promised, along with a hefty danger bonus to make up for not informing them of the full details of her plan and to keep them quiet. Trinite always considered it worthwhile to keep those under her employ loyal, well-paid and happy. Chances were they’d head out of town in the next few days anyway to avoid repercussions from either Diamondback or the Lucce Family.
As for Trinite, all that was left was to change back into her dress, meet back up with a slightly singed and bruised Morgiana, head back into Whitewing Keep via one of her numerous secret tunnels and sit down to enjoy some chilled cordial and observe the after-effects of her latest tryst.
Needless to say, she wasn’t disappointed.
“I fucking hate that dragon.” Marco groaned as he half-limped through the gates and into the garden. “I swear, my bruises have bruises.”
“At least you’re not the one stuck on fire duty.” Ferrucchio said. Out of the three brothers, he had the least in terms of actual visible injuries, but some of his hair was still visibly singed. “I swear it’s a miracle that he hasn’t burned down the city yet.”
“Hmghl.” Lucinda’s twin grumbled and folded his arms. His face looked notably swollen.
Lucinda watched the three trudge by from the comfortable garden seat in which she sat, a glass of pleasant lemon cordial in her hands, courtesy of Morgiana. She smirked, hiding it beneath a sip of the cup.
“Let me guess,” she said, as they passed her wordlessly. “Draug again?”
“What gave it away?” Ferruchio asked, halfheartly, stepping over to take a chair for himself.
Lucinda looked at the slight tuft of smoke still floating above his head, from his singed hair. “Lucky guess.”
Marco let out a wordless grumble in response. He looked like he wanted nothing more than to get to the baths and wash his aching body, but he took a seat next to Ferruchio nonetheless. “Well, you don’t need to worry. The dragon and his master got lucky this time around, but we’ll get them next time.”
Morgiana was every bit as skilled at concealing her true feelings from people as Lucinda was, so her face and body language remained completely demure and subservient, but Lucinda swore she could practically sense the amused snort that the dragon girl wished she could let loose.
“What about you, Dino?” Lucinda asked, turning to her surprisingly silent twin. “Did you manage to score any good hits against that dastardly dragon?”
Dino’s face soured. He opened his mouth to speak, before wincing suddenly.
“Ah, he’s not going to be able to answer you.” Ferruchio quickly interjected. “He ended up accidentally biting his tongue when Draug threw him through a building. The healers say it’s going to take a day or two before it recovers.”
“Oh, what a shame!” That the injury wouldn’t last longer, that is. “I do hope you feel better soon.” Lucinda took another contented sip from her lemon juice, happy to look every bit the contented pampered princess. “If it makes you all feel any better, I had an exceptional day today. The petunias in the Rose Garden look like they’re really starting to come through and we should be able to start harvesting the pears soon..”
Judging from the looks on her brothers’ faces, even Ferruchio’s attempt at an interested smile, it did not in any way make them feel better. Then again Lucinda was completely fine with that. After all it wasn’t meant to. Especially since her exceptional day came largely at their expense.
Then again, in many ways, that was what she loved so much about her current job. After all, if the boys wouldn’t let her play their game then it only seemed fair she play one of her ow-
Lucinda damn nearly jumped out of her seat as a great streak of white light shot down from above, impacting the huge lawn directly in front of them like a comet. Her dress, a fashionable light thing in the traditional white and gold colours of the Lucce family, billowed and buffeted in the sudden streak of wind and she couldn’t help an embarrassed squeak as her sunhat flew straight off her head. Fortunately Morgiana, even competent, was able to catch it with relative ease and place it back onto her head, but it still left a rather large chink in her dignity.
Moments later, the light faded, revealing a very familiar figure, tall, blond and dressed in fine white and gold armour. The dove-shaped helm on High Prince Northstar’s head stared down, fierce and proud, while his breastplate glimmered with the light of a thousand stars.
More worryingly though, there was a body slumped over his shoulders.
“F-Father!” Marco said, immediately straightening to attention. “I didn’t realise you were back in town. We thought you planned on remaining at Glimmer Ranch for the week.”
“I had.” High Prince Alexander ‘Northstar’ Lucce said, calming stepping forward. Age had greyed the hair around his temples slightly, but he looked as stern as ever. “But my negotiations with Lord Crystallion managed to wrap up early.” His eyes ran over the disheveled forms of the three brothers. “Quite fortunately, so it appears.”
Neither Marco nor Ferruchio could meet his eyes. Dino tried, but his swollen tongue made it hard for him to speak and his few attempts at trying only got him an extra intense glare from their father.
“I have already been fully briefed on the situation by Sir Shimmershield.” Alexander said, his voice level. “Including your injuries, actions and mistakes.” The three brothers flinched at that. “Needless to say I am not impressed. You were foolhardy, failed to properly scout out the situation and did not plan for potential trickery, as is Trinite’s specialty. I will go over your mistakes in more detail later, once you are all cleaned up and fully recovered but, needless to say, I expect better from all three of you. Am I understood?”
“Yes father.” Marco and Ferruchio bowed their heads. Dino made a noise that, while muffled, clearly held the same meaning.
“Good.” Alexander said. His face softened an inch. “I see great potential in all three of you, my sons. A few mistakes does not erase all that. And I am certain that one day you will all be able to live up to that great potential and raise our family name to greater heights. The future of our house will one day lie in your hands, my sons and I would see you ready to carry it.”
They tried to hide it, but all three of Lucinda’s brothers puffed up their chests slightly at those words. “Yes, Father.”
“Good.” Alexander smiled slightly. “Fortunately, the day wasn’t entirely filled with error.” With a flex of his shoulders, he threw the body he was carrying onto the ground. “I caught this little rat on his way scurrying down to the docks. I dealt with him appropriately”
Lucinda’s blood froze as the lifeless corpse of Slant flopped onto the grass, eyes wide in shock and three smoking holes burned into his chest. Morgiana’s lips curled back slightly.
“From what I can tell, he was a mercenary captain of middling talent.” Alexander continued on, seeming unaware or possibly just uncaring of his daughter’s reaction. “I doubt he had any worthwhile connection to Trinite for us to track or investigate, but removing one potential piece from the Young Rogue’s hands is always of use.” He nodded at his three sons. “Now go get yourselves cleaned up. I will meet you in my office in an hour.”
The three brothers nodded and saluted, before continuing their trudge to the castle. In spite of this dismissal, their mood had visibly lightened and they chattered animatedly among each other as they went. Dino even sprinted forward, visibly daring his brothers to catch him, like he was a 10 year old child again.
Soon, only Lucinda and Alexander were left on the lawn, looking silently at one another. Morgiana stood attentively to Lucinda’s side but otherwise didn’t say a word.
“Father.” Lucinda said, doing her best to keep her voice with the same level of light charm as it had had earlier.
“Lucinda.” Alexander said neutrally. “What are you doing out here?”
‘What, no kind words for your only living daughter?’ Lucinda’s thoughts sneered in her head. ‘No flattery or telling me that the future of our house rests on my shoulders? Or are you only reserving that for your idiot sons, rather than the daughter you wish you’d never had?’
Of course, none of these thoughts made it to Lucinda’s tongue. Instead she gently lifted her glass of cordial and the larger jug by its side. “I was simply sitting out here enjoying the good weather.” Her eyes brightened slightly, like an enthusiastic puppy. “Perhaps you’d like to join me, Father? It’s been ever so long since we talked together.”
She knew the answer before it even crossed his lips.
“I’m afraid not.” Alexander said sternly. There was nothing of the former light he’d shown towards her brothers in his eyes. “I have important business to attend to. Running a city requires a lot of work and I can’t waste them sitting down and drinking cordial.”
Lucinda’s fingers tightened around her glass.
“Well, I suppose that’s too bad.” She said cheerfully. “I won’t keep you any longer then. I wouldn’t want to keep your from your job with my silly little flights of fancy, would I? That would be very unbecoming of a Princess of the Lucce family.”
If Alexander noticed the bitterness concealed within those words, he didn’t show it. Instead, he reached down, picked up Slant’s corpse and, engulfing himself in light once more, flew off towards the keep, leaving Lucinda and Morgiana to be buffeted with wind once more.
This time, however, Lucinda did not react to the sudden gust buffeting her clothes, nor her sunhat flying off her head once again. Instead she watched the trail of light left behind by her father’s path with a cool emotionless expression. The glass of cordial lay still and forgotten in her hands.
“Morgiana.” She said calmly.
Morgiana blinked. “My princess?”
“I’m not really one for dramatic vows.” Lucinda said. “But I’m going to rip control of this city kicking and screaming out of his hands.”
There was a glimmer of something in her servant’s eyes. “Of course, my princess.”
“Good.” Lucinda said. She leaned her head back and tipped down the last of the cordial in a violent motion. Its once sweet flavours had now taken on a bitter aftertaste and she grimaced, before wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.