Blood made the handle of Lia's sword hard to grip. She gritted her teeth and pushed harder, felt her opponent go limp. She sighed and pulled the weapon free. There'd been a time, long ago, when she'd thought it impossible for her to kill another living thing. Her hands still shook from the act.

She wiped at the blood on her forehead with a sleeve but only succeeded in smearing more around. It was caked in her mussed black hair, soaked into her tattered clothes, and made her pale skin itch. Although blood might have been a generous word... icor was perhaps more appropriate. The creature that now lay dead at her feet was no human, though it had masqueraded as one long enough to kill three good men. Her men. The thought of them killed as they slept brought up a rage that was all too common these days.

For a moment she longed for the way things had been. But the carefree, naive noble's daughter she'd been, with her pale skin and painstakingly braided hair, was dead. Now Lia was determined see her kingdom cleansed, no matter the cost. She would win, even if it cost her soul.

The End

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