Ladylike Conduct

"The artifact. Has it been retrieved?"

The voice was a cold echo in the cavernous space, all dull planes and angles.

"N-no, milady," a second voice stuttered, frozen in icy fear.

The response was thick venom, slow and slick like molasses. "Are you admitting to failure, captain?"

"Yes, m-m-milady." Eyelids clamped shut. Bated breath waited. Lips trembled, and knuckles shone white across a polished spear.

"Your failure is my own, my child," she whispered, delicate wisps of frost.

He raised his eyes, spear still clutched in ivory hands. Her own eyes stared back at him, white where his were blue, clouded over where his were clear.

"Leave me." This dismissal came quick, tinkling off her lips.

The man stood, bowed his head and, while doing so, thumped his spear against the ground three times. Only then did he turn to leave.

A smile crossed her lips as she listened to the dimming of his foot-falls, her unblinking eyes staring unseeing at his back.

"He will return victorious," she pronounced. "Lest he return at all."

Booted feet and rustling chains greeted her words, sharpening the smile at her lips.

"Soldier, bring me the prisoner."

The shuffling sounds grew closer.

A tired voice strained. "But milady-"

"Silence!" Her voice resonated in the high halls, then returned to a hush. "You are not my child anymore."

A whimper from the degraded man, then the dance of dark steel across his matron's fingers. Even the soldier suppressing the man shivered, twin lances of cold and fear driving through his body.

She was silent as the blade descended, though screams still echoed from wall to wall. The soldier left with the body, followed by a streak of stark red and the muffled noise of three deliberate stomps.

Her breathing came heavy for a few moments, but she paced it again with a gasp. A crystal tear slid down her cheek, an icicle from the pale pools that were her eyes. It beaded on her chin, then fell to the blade clutched messily in her lap. The bloody tears stained her white dress crimson, though her unseeing eyes looked on, defiant and firm.

"I lament the loss," she rasped to the oblique walls.

A moth flitted behind her, white like her hair, her eyes, and her dress. It was soon joined by others, all a uniform shade. They danced and dived, weaving to and fro behind her throne, never alighting.

Her hand passed across her lap, through the air, hovering lightly over the blood, the dagger. Her words seethed in her concentration. "But he reaped his own death."

When her arm returned to her side, the dagger was gone. The blood was gone. Even the dark trail to the door had disappeared. And so, too, had the moths.

Her eyelids fluttered closed, pale skin passing across pale irises. She was a statue, plaster and porcelain. Breath left her in a stale hiss and her limbs were left limp.

Behind her was carved a window, through which a cloud of moths, white and pale, could be seen, flocking, like birds. And as a flock, they left.

The End

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