Part 45: Ruta's Preparation

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"It happened, however, that the King appointed a festival which was to last three days, and to which all the beautiful young girls in the country were invited, in order that his son might choose himself a bride." (Cinderella, Brothers Grimm)

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-Ruta-

It's exactly as I remember it to be. The royal city of Esperance is gorgeous in every aspect, from its white marble buildings to its paved streets. I've only been here one time before, when the sleazy King Esperance invited Father, Mother, and I (but mostly Mother) over to celebrate little Charming's betrothal to the snoozing princess of Doria.

How soon he had forgotten her when my hand officially became available.

The kingdom is as lovely as its ever been. Like the first time I came here, I feel a twinge of jealousy. The people here were all so well-behaved and civilized, unlike the dirty ruffians of Livor that are currently spilling onto the city streets like some nasty, contagious disease. No one here would ever plot to kill their rulers and boil them alive.

I wince at the pain that comes with digging your own nails into the soft flesh of your palms. With some effort, I pry my fingers away from my palms and instead grab onto the tree I'm hiding behind.

I can't stay in the shadows of the forest forever and neither do I want to. The end of my journey draws near and I'm more than ready to finish what I set out to do from the moment that Katharsis revived me.

My narrowed eyes follow after Nate as he leads a group of men towards the castle. I notice him scanning the rest of the crowd for me. His shoulders deflate almost unnoticeably when he finds nothing. He turns and continues towards the castle.

My shaking fingers drag down the rough bark of the tree, leaving a series of light scratches on its surface. I spin around and rest my back against the tree.

Even now, that insufferable fool thinks of me. Is there anything I can do to sever this unwanted affection the idiot has for me? You would think that when a lady says she intends on entering a contest aimed at winning the affections of another man, her previous "suitor" would get the idea and presumably, preferrably begin to hate her.

I'm slowly beginning to find out that Nate is a different kind of man, one that a woman should never give the smallest amount of space in her life if she doesn't want him getting attached. In his eyes, I've transformed into some sort of damsel in distress, which I am most certainly not. I'm the girl who, in just another 24 hours, will be puncturing his lungs with her sword.

Are you really surprised? Hasn't something like this happened before?

"Shut up," I hiss at the small voice in my head. The voice doesn't listen.

Haven't you rejected him before? In a similar manner? No matter how much you want to forget about it, the memory is still there, waiting for you to--

"Shut up!"

My shriek sends the birds of the forest flying out of their homes in the trees and searching for safety in the sky. The constant flapping of their tiny wings and muffled caws join the unsteady thumping of my heart.

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